The Lockdown Returns
Things have deteriorated here in Toronto, and we’ve been put into lockdown. It’s both unsurprising and demoralizing. I have self-diagnosed myself with seasonal affect disorder, which I’m still trying to convince Jon is a real thing, and with the cold, grey, snowy weather upon us, everything feels a bit grim. Chicken has been a bit emotional these days, with the snow, as he doesn’t like his paws getting wet, and therefore has been stuck inside with us, his family, the ones that feed him and pet him and love him.
On the one hand, we’ve been closed for a little while now to walk-in traffic and browsing. We’re a small team. As we saw the numbers, we had no choice but to circle the wagons, trying our best to blindly walk that line between safe and sorry, whoever knows where either of those are. On the other hand, the situation spiraling out of control here in the city is a bit too reminiscent of apocalyptic fiction. Here, our wagons, and here, us, torches alight, waving wildly at anyone daring to approach our doors, looking for some paper or ink. Yes, we will trade you this last bottle of Emerald of Chivor for some antibiotics and three potatoes.
I guess the scary thing for us, as a shop, and as a shop family, is that once a vaccine gets rolled out and is widely adopted and cases drop to something more manageable here in Toronto or in Canada, it’s certainly not as though most small businesses are going to make it “out of this” the same, bouncing right back to the same operational levels, the same staffing levels, the same shop hours. We’ve all robbed Peter to pay Paul and it turns out Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are waiting in the wings. Every small business we know has made small and large, drastic and severe cuts and changes, and every loan or injection or grant or “pause” on a hydro bill tides you over—maybe—but so many businesses that stagger out of this aren’t going to be the same, permanently crippled by decisions we made without knowing what the future would hold. Already, we’ve seen some shops close their brick and mortar, having to give up their lease and move fully to online, running it out of their homes, others just bowing out as gracefully as they can. We salute you from our own wobbling ship, bailing out water as we watch, taping up holes with gaff tape, at the very least, a step up from washi.
For us, we’ve had this opportunity to focus on our online, and to launch a new website, which, while hasn’t been without its own headaches, has been something we’ve been talking about doing for a while, and is a step we’re grateful to be able to take. With the temporary removal of the manpower needed to run our brick and mortar shops, we pivoted, as is the general wisdom for small businesses in this time. Restaurants can’t do dine-in? Pivot to take home menu meals! Retail shops can have customers come in anymore? Pivot to a flashy new website! We’re pivoting. Everyone is trying their best. The line dance is both horrific and fascinating.
We see business owners, chefs, artists, who are optimistic and putting their hearts and minds into it, driving hard into slicing their lemons into different shapes, and to a healthy extent, all small business owners have a bit of that in them, trying to problem solve when things come up, trying new events or new lines or new ways of doing things. But after half a year, a year of this, my own optimism has become a bit more unhinged. It’s all going to be alright! She cackles maniacally as she cowers in the corner with the cat, sucking on lemon wedges.
That’s all to say we’re all taking deep breaths as we barrel into the holiday season. Barreling is indeed the right word, I can sometimes hardly believe how fast we’re moving. How is it already late November? I’m certainly not trying to guilt anyone into shopping local or buying stationery that they don't need. We’ve all seen the posts on social media about supporting local businesses, and they mean a lot to us, because they mean that people are recognizing what main street shops can bring to their communities, and seeing the losses to their neighbourhoods and cities as the dust moves and settles. But I know that it can also be exhausting, to feel pressured to buy things in a certain way or to feel guilty about buying other things in other ways. The truth of the matter is really and truly that we want to offer value and a glimpse into what it means to run a family shop and supplies and tools that you feel you do need, and that do help you to focus, be creative, connect or disconnect in the right ways, put words or art on the page. To enjoy writing. I sometimes joke that the frivolity of these obsolete tools we call pens is part of the fun! And it is, but in many ways, stationery and writing by hand is something that does connect us to ourselves and to others. I mean, I wouldn’t stop you from buying something just to keep us alive (what can I offer you? Stickers? Pencils? Some paper clips?) but really and truly, if no one is writing anymore, then we’re going to go out of business pandemic or not.
And so we march on. This holiday season is going to look different, much like everything else has over this last year: family, school, going to the library. We are grateful for all of you in our corner and in our community. We’re eating lots of unhealthy take out because it’s now, circuitously, good for the great communal Us and not at all feeding my feelings. It’s been awful and I’m sure there is worse to come, but we march on because there’s no other choice, and also because we’re holding out this insane hope that this too shall pass and we’re going to be there on the other side of it.