If you’re subscribed to our weekly email newsletter (used to go out on Fridays, now goes out on Tuesdays), or are following us on Instagram, you may have already heard that we are closing our brick and mortar shop at 52 Clinton Street again, for the next little while. We’re still going to have curb side pick up on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 12-4, and may be looking at increasing those hours as well.

The numbers in Toronto and Ontario look awful! I’m trying not to be too manic or unhinged about things, although every time we do one of these things we get a lot of feedback from people and I find myself spiralling into conversations that end up in strange places. Some of it is a bit more out there, theories about Russia and Putin, and some of it less so, reminders about significantly increased testing in Ontario naturally resulting in a higher number of positives. Apparently schools are not quite the incubator of the virus as had been feared, and we are all now much more informed and in general, everyone is wearing masks, washing their hands or using sanitizer more frequently, if not religiously. It’s different from what it was in March. But winter is coming, and better safe than sorry, as some people remind us—although who knows how sorry we’ll be if the business ends up wobbling and falling over and we can’t pick it back up.

On the one hand, we’re less stressed about policing customers’ hand-sanitizing and touching and counting people in the shop, but on the other hand, we agonize about weathering the storm and the dip that comes with closing our doors and the holiday season and whether or not it’s going to be a good one. I mean, Christmas is always good. But sometimes, it’s better (in different ways) than others. It has been a life shift for me, going from the joy and busy-ness of Christmas gifts and food and holiday smells to the busy-ness of Christmas as a shop, long hours, tired customers, happy customers, long lists. This upcoming season is going to be a new one for us.

It seems like we’re back where we started, perhaps a bit scragglier. Scraggly, scrappy, same thing right? The first time around, we were a bit dazed, everything was uncertain, it seemed like I hadn’t taken enough notes when I watched the first couple of seasons of The Walking Dead. This time, it’s a bit less grim, a bit more gritted teeth. Caleb’s back in school, Naomi has started preschool, both of which seem like a very hard-won gift, although I don’t personally do any work on that front, other than harassing Caleb about bringing his mask, and where’s your one from yesterday?? And I saw that picture your teacher sent, whose baby carrot is that on the floor, that doesn’t look clean, I hope it’s not from your lunch, my eyes steeled as Caleb’s eyes dart away guiltily, unsure if he actually had baby carrots in his lunch that day. I really like Caleb’s teacher this year, and I hope it doesn’t move to virtual. Hope being probably the best I have at this point. Naomi’s hands are always dry and crusty coming home, that baby skin getting washed and sanitized a thousand times a day.

It was a tough decision, of course, mainly because no shop owner ever wants to have to close their shop. It’s terrible. We’re shop owners, this is what we do, we have a shop that people come into. It’s not quite the same if no one is coming in, and certainly not if our door is locked all the time. It feels final even though, in this case, we’ve done it once before, and we weathered that storm. We’re slightly more battered now, but still here.

All I want is for my kids to be in school, and to be getting into good sorts of trouble and to be listening to their teacher read them stories. Of course, that’s not really all I want. But it seems like the things we can have these days are limited, and every choice is fraught with unsavoury possibilities and side effects.

Jon has been picking up take-out pho for dinner every once in a while, these days. Jon is really into pho, and we’ve been been going to the same pho place on Gerrard in east Chinatown since our days on Carlaw. I like soup noodles as much as the next Asian person, but take-out pho is really not the same. The soup is never hot enough and the meat, which they pack with the noodles separately from the soup, is always still sort of pinkish after you put it in the warm-ish broth, so we have to reheat the soup first, and we’re sitting around waiting for the broth to boil, and we’re fishing bean sprouts of plastic bags and there’s never enough sauce. But the guy at the pho place said it’s been tough this year, probably for all the reasons above. As well as the pandemic.

Wouldn’t it be just awful for that pho place not to be around, though? I mean, yes, for us to not have tasty pho, although I’m sure after some grieving we would pivot to another pho place. But for this family running this pho place, hustling through these tough times, up-selling spring rolls over the phone, I can’t imagine it. Not all Asian people are related, I don’t actually know anything about this particular family, beyond recognizing their faces from whenever we’ve gone there. They think Naomi is funny and cute the same way they thought Caleb was.

But just the knowledge that in particular, these places that make up our east Chinatowns and our downtown Chinatowns, that don’t have an online shop or are on social media, that have extremely perishable merchandise, that are often started and run by immigrants, might not be around after the pandemic. They are not (like us, ho ho ho), the trendy, with-it places that have an Instagram account and that ship things out and that have a snotty shop cat.

So Jon and the kids happily slurp up their noodles, and I grumble about how it’s not the same. And we all just hope that eventually one day we will get back there, and the pho will be the same again.

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October 01, 2020 — wonderpens



wonderpens said:

We are hanging in! And grateful for your encouragement. Hopeful to be here for as long as you’ll all have us.


wonderpens said:

We are sad, but hopeful for what’s ahead. ?


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[…] On Temporarily Closing Again (via Wonder Pens Blog) […]


Teddy said:

Hang in there Liz, Jon et al.

I always take heart from a mantra that came my way a while back -

“Have the courage and wherewithal to deviate from the plan”.

The times are more changeful than many of us can ever remember. Unfortunately, more often than not, it’s for the worse in this upturned world.

But many people are fighting the good fight, expressing a generosity of spirit that keeps us all going. It’s not always going to go to plan, but sometimes we have to take the other direction, and remember that it leads somewhere too. Gathering up all that support and encouragement from others as we do.

I hope you guys stay strong in the ‘not knowing’. I’m clearly one of many who love what you do. Stores and stories like yours are what give the world colour and texture.


wonderpens said:

Thank you so much for your support! We are nervous and anxious, but like you, looking forward to the other side of things. What a dream it will all be!

Lisa RR

Lisa RR said:

Which pho place do you frequent?
Yes I am trying to get takeout and local purchases from my neighbourhood – I really want the stores to be able to survive somehow …
Thanks for keeping curbside pickup going. Much appreciated! Will aim to get my act together for an order. So many temptations …


Nina said:

This makes me sad.


wonderpens said:

Yes! I have the same feelings, watching some gatherings. If we could all just pull together a little! I mostly grind my teeth though, so perhaps should try meditation.


wonderpens said:

We have yes already closed. I’m sorry we weren’t able to provide more lead time!


wonderpens said:

Yes, for sure, small independent shops are so much the fabric of neighbourhoods and main streets. Knowing the proprietors or staff, getting to know and see familiar faces. We are very much hoping to weather this storm, and see you all on the other side. Thanks so much for your support!

Tom I

Tom I said:

Boredom in my Toronto condo has sent me to set up an office in my parent’s basement out of town and stay in one of their guest rooms. I chose the Spanish Room over the Maritimes Room. Details. I miss shopping in person, but like your other customers, we get what we need from you on line. I hope everyone is well and by Christmas we will be all over your store and see people strolling the streets with their coffees as if nothing happened. Cheers!


Aldo said:

These are some thought times that is for sure. But it’s places like your shop and the pho restaurant that make it a little less scary. The familiar places that bring joy and smiles to people. They have a certain character that a big box store could never achieve.
I am really grateful for small family owned shops.
Things will be rough from here until this pandemic is finally over. But I am confident we will be stronger in the end.
I can’t wait to visit the shops when they open again. Been there is as comforting as a bowl of perfect temperature pho.

Arthur J Poirier

Arthur J Poirier said:

Have you closed already?
If not, do you have a closing date?


Bob said:

Sorry to hear that Liz. It’s the same thing here for us in Montreal. I have to use all kinds of meditation technics when I hear teenagers or not so, playing basketball in the park in front of us as if we’re in pre-covid times……
The Phoenix will rise, but the burning part and turning into ashes part seems hard…..

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