Every Monday at 6 a.m., Cristina Bocanegra sends out an email alert to the followers of her Mini Market newsletter about what the three featured shops will be that week.
Different companies, mostly small businesses that offer goods that appeal to moms and their kids, are included each week. The followers of the newsletter get a special 24-hour discount at these businesses.
"We’ve always marketed ourselves as for mamas and their minis and every sort of product everywhere that falls into that," she says.
That means women’s clothing, kids’ clothing, accessories, home decor and toys.
Bocanegra, 37, sends out a second alert at 8 p.m. to catch the moms who got busy with their day and forgot to get the deal.
"The whole idea was to make supporting small businesses convenient for busy moms," she says.
Now, the Mini Market newsletter has replaced the in-person twice-a-year Mini Market that would attract whole families to shop the vendors, which are mostly local but also increasingly from out of state.
Bocanegra was starting to work on replicating the Mini Market in other towns, too, especially in areas where the out-of-state vendors were located.
Then COVID-19 happened. The Mini Market in-person event planned for April had to be postponed, and still is. Her garage remains full of items for gift bags including candles and bath bombs. "It smells really good," she says, but it has stymied her own goal to organize the garage during this time of being at home more.
She explored the possibility of reopening a summer in-person Mini Market, but "in our hearts, it just didn’t feel right," she says, even though she knew there could be ways to do it safely.
The weekly Mini Market newsletter and an index of curated businesses for moms and their kids were developed out of pandemic necessity.
"For now, we’re going to fly with this virtual thing," she says. "We’re not going to risk anybody’s safety. If I can find something that’s working, we’re going to continue to do that."
It’s one of the ways Bocanegra has shifted the three businesses she runs during the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to Mini Market, Bocanegra runs Love Child, an online magazine, and co-runs the Current Conference for women.
Bocanegra grew up in Austin but moved to New York City, where she taught kindergarten in Harlem for five years. "It’s the most rewarding job, but it’s also the hardest job other than being a mom," she says of teaching.
Every day on her commute, she passed a fashion school. She felt the need for a creative outlet. "I was living in this creative city, and I’m a creative person by nature, but I had not had an opportunity to fit it in," she says.
She decided to see if they had continuing education classes "for adults that needed a hobby," she says. She took a styling class, then enrolled in a two-year program.
With an undergraduate degree, a master’s in education and now a degree in styling, she didn’t know how to start a new career while paying the rent. She moved back home at 27 and worked for free as an assistant, then moved in with her sister in a Travis Heights bungalow owned by a friend’s parents. She took mini jobs that led to bigger ones and then began to start her own businesses.
"I can have big dreams, and I can attain them," she says about creating her own pathway.
Six years into her return to Austin, Bocanegra began the online magazine Love Child in 2016 when she was pregnant with son Bowie.
The magazine has shifted as her sons Bowie, 4, and Grey, 2, have grown.
"We have that content for first-time moms and babies, but now we’re adding more content for older kids," she says.
When Love Child relaunches on Tuesday, it will have more social-emotional development content and content about looking at the whole child.
"What’s nice about Love Child, we’re always keeping the content pretty evergreen," she says. "We’re still highlighting women and mothers and different stories of fertility journeys."
With the relaunch, though, Love Child will focus on what’s happening now: how families are navigating COVID-19 and home and school, either at home or in-person, and motherhood.
In some ways, Bocanegra says, "it feels like the fall of working motherhood at times." How do you continue to work, but at home with kids also at home?
At any given moment, one of her kids is asking for a snack, she says. "I have learned how to be my most efficient self."
For Bocanegra, that has meant stealing away moments of time, such as during nap time, while kids are eating, before they wake up or after they go to sleep.
It has also meant calling in help, whether it’s her mother, her husband or a babysitter, whom she has screened and asked questions about how she is social distancing right now. Sometimes Bocanegra hides out at her sister’s home to get work done or goes to a coffee shop with outside seating.
Mini Market grew by word of mouth and friends tagging friends, and it has continued to do so as a virtual market. Bocanegra now lets the featured businesses take over the Mini Market Instagram account on that day.
She’s able to expand to more companies that are not in Austin or Texas. "There’s no limits at this point," she says, but she does prefer to feature smaller businesses. "When you buy from a small business, there’s an actual person doing a happy dance."
Bocanegra gets asked every day when Mini Market will return in person. "It seems so far off at this point," she says.
Instead, she’s working on an experiential shopping concept for the holidays. "We’re really trying to think outside the box," she says. "We know people are missing and itching to have a person-to-person connection.
"How can we do this in a way of minimizing people interaction ... and bring some of that in-person experience?"
Bocanegra is also transforming her third business to adapt to the pandemic. The Current Conference, which she launched last year with sister Sara Hussey, will be a virtual event Oct. 24.
The tickets to the first conference last September sold out in 28 hours, Bocanegra says. They postponed the 2020 conference but now will go ahead with a virtual one. "We have a lot of juicy content," she says.
Hosting a virtual conference and Mini Market as a newsletter instead of an in-person event could ultimately help to grow those brands.
"We’re not limited to just an Austin audience anymore," she says.
The pandemic has brought another kind of opportunity. She’s enjoying this time as a family.
"I’m so happy to be able to work from home and be with these boys," she says, even if someone always needs a snack.