Being a shopkeeper during a pandemic

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Sunrise on Lake Orion. A little island that looks so alone, but is surrounded by thousands of people, just a lifting of fog and sunlight away. 

We are all living insular lives. I live alone and the shop is a short eight-minute walk from home. It makes it easy to move between the two and easily maintain “the distance” and keep the business alive and vibrant. My world, like yours, is a very small world.

On a typical day, I usually eat breakfast at work somewhere between 7 and 9 while checking email, Facebook, Instagram and checking to see if it’s my turn to play Scrabble—an 11-year daily habit with Sybil. If we have orders via the website, invoices are printed, product gathered and prepared for shipping. If we have Second Chance orders from our Heritage Specials group on our fb page, I hand write a list, make piles for each purchaser and get that in the shipping queue. It seems so simple written in just two sentences, but it is usually not until  about 2:00 when Lika or her sub comes to get the mail that we come up for air. The USPS has become our lifeblood, carrying orders out to you and sometimes bringing new product to us.

IMG_2532I also get email requests, like: “I’d like to make the Nightshift Cowl, can you please find Crazy yarn and a matching solid?” So I pick several options, send photographs and, if we are lucky, I hit it the first time. If not, we do it again. Or, “I need to make five pairs of mittens for Christmas, plus a pair for me. Can you choose colors?” Sometimes more guidance is needed and the emails can go on for a day or three. Thank goodness for the phone camera and our little portable photo studio. I take pictures and send them along and decisions are made. Similar requests come in over the phone and we wander around the store finding just the right yarn for your next project. It’s kind of like being a personal yarn shopper and a detective, all in one.

DebH works as a necessary (VERY) employee three days a week. She is my sanity. Some days it takes us until early afternoon to get the orders processed. Lunchtime comes at about 2. Where we often ordered out in the past, we carry in these days. Deb stays until about 4 (or 5 or 6) and I usually go home a bit after that, except on days when I am sent home to take a nap (I’m working seven days a week).

In between, we sanitize everything, manage porch pick ups, try to keep our work areas tidy, price Second Chance, take inventory, keep the webstore up to date, take photos for Second Chance on-line, apply for grants, design patterns, shelve yarn from all the personal shopping, place orders, and try to stay sane. Deb has managed to keep up with taking the garbage out, but neither of us have tackled sweeping the floor. There will be one big cleaning work-bee before we reopen to the public! I never, ever imagined how much work it would be to run this place with just two people, really 1.5 people on a full-time basis. I am more grateful for our regular staff than I have ever been and I miss them dearly.

IMG_2351Our kits have been very popular since we put them on the website. They remove decision making for the knitter and are ready to knit right out of the bag. Keeping up with making the kits and yarn packs has been carefully coordinated by Becky. She lives close enough to walk to the shop, we basically do porch pick ups and she is keeping the kit shelves stocked. Sharon is also working long-distance. She is responsible for many of the Facebook posts that you see. Having help with social media has been a God-send. It has freed a bit more time for me to do other things, although I am still out there regularly, I have been able to back off a bit. Sharon’s posts help remind the world that we do have these kits, so Sharon and Becky have a somewhat symbiotic relationship!

Now, the phone rings more often and conversations are longer. I have had delightful conversations with people, mostly women, around the country. I listen, you listen, together we help save each other’s sanity. Knitting, weaving and all the fiber arts are enormously comforting.

Financially, I can guarantee you that the shop IS here and WILL be here when we are through all this. I no longer take a paycheck, but am able to pay Deb and meet our expenses. If worry produced income, this place would be flooded with gold! We will be here because of you, the community we have built and your very, very generous support. This is NOT how I intended to celebrate our 20th year in business, perhaps we will celebrate our 21st as a coming of age party. By then there should be a vaccine and freedom of movement will return, for which we will all be grateful.

Life isn’t all work. Life has layers.

One week after I closed the the shop to the public and the day the governor sent us all home, I learned that I had breast cancer (minor, small, contained, early stage, NOT critical, but still bothersome). Treatment is a simple lumpectomy followed by radiation. Since this is an elective procedure, I wait. I am president of a charity the provides comfort items to cancer patients, Knit Michigan. I know the drill, that I shouldn’t worry, but sometimes, some days, it still feels like there’s a little time-bomb in my body. So I work harder.

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Our last family portrait.

Last week was the first anniversary of my father’s death. I miss him everyday and see him each time I look in the mirror. I am his daughter. The hardest part of that day was not being able to travel north to be with my family. I moved to Detroit in 1981 to attend CCS and never left SE Michigan. This will be the longest I have gone without going “home” in all these 40 years. We are a close family. Lately, they know that the business, my health, and my husband’s health (he was transferred for work to Harbor Springs over a year ago) have been weighing heavily and we talk and text often. The gift of family.

 

Then there’s my extended family. After a long day at work, I go home to catch up with friends that need checked in on, that I need to talk to, to those I need to hear their voice. They call or I call. In between and during our calls, I knit and continue my pattern design work. I find that I am spending so many hours keeping the shop afloat that weaving and reading do not come easily anymore. I know that I will be “better” when these once joyful activities return to my daily life.

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This is Joy. Delivering JOY!

In spite of everything, finding joy has been a gift. My grandmother once told my father that “every day is a beautiful day.” She was so right. I have been making a point to look for it. A friend did some grocery shopping for me and she brought me mini daffodils. A precious gift. We have had some splendid sunrises these last few weeks. The maples are in flower. The birds are back and noisy. I enjoyed a birthday car party past a friend’s house. People are busy helping strangers by making face masks. There is a constant parade of dogs on the Village streets. One of the grants I wrote paid off: we received an advertising grant from Long Thread Media (you’ll hear more about this). I hope you find as much joy in finding joy each day as I do. It does help.

 

When it is over.

We will be changed. We will be different people living in the same skin. As a business owner, it really won’t be over when it is “over” because we will still have to recover financially from the loss of sales, lowering of inventory that needs restocked, and returning to being able to draw a salary. One thing I know for absolute certain sure is that my family and my Heritage family will sustain me.

Our Heritage family is so special and so far-flung, yet closer now. Today we will have a ZOOM session for our regular Sunday afternoon social knitting for Fair Isle and Norwegian knitters. We are likely to have special visitors from out-of-state that love us from afar. Thanks to all of you for being a special part of our Heritage fiber family. I hope it means as much to you as it does to us.

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Shop greenhippogifts.com, one of our downtown lake orion businesses. Need masks? call Ed’s Broadway. Need chocolate? Check out Nutz about Chocolate. Sara’s Bath Boutique has soap and hand sanitizer. All have Facebook pages and websites. Visit downtownlakeorion.org for a complete list of downtownshops offering curbside delivery.

I hope my blog post has given you insight into the story of a small business owner during these unusual times. It’s not just yarn shops going through this. Every shop owner I know is struggling to do everything they can to keep their noses above water. I don’t hear complaints from them (perhaps frustration about grants promised that will not be delivered, but that really wasn’t a surprise). I do hear hope and see innovation, creativity and love for what they do. I do sense worry below the surface, because, well, we worry a lot. Please know that supporting small businesses supports our communities. Thank you for your patronage on behalf of all small businesses owners.

 

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