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Hobby businesses think these pastimes are here to stay
There are two groups of people in our country right now: people doing their part by getting up every morning and going to work, and people doing their part by staying home.
While some people can work from home, even when work is done, no one has anywhere they have to be.
There’s only so much screen time a person can take, and only so much COVID-19 news we can consume. Many people have taken to crafting and puzzles in order to maintain sanity as social distancing stretches on.
Dan McDonald of Bookmark, which has locations in Charlottetown, PEI and Halifax, NS says puzzles have been popular with customers.
“The level of the puzzles that we’re selling now would be closer to what we would sell around Christmas. It’s not as much as Christmas, but it’s definitely way more puzzles than what we would sell this time of year,” McDonald said.
He believes that puzzle sales, which were trending upward before the pandemic, are likely to continue as a popular item once things return to a version of normal.
“I think it just introduced more people to puzzles, so I think that will continue,” says McDonald. “I think people are going to find that there’s a real enjoyment. It’s a family activity that you can do together with three or four other people. So, I think that will continue.”
Because COVID-19 restrictions are affecting every link of the supply chain, McDonald has some difficulty ensuring Bookmark has enough puzzles on hand. At the same time, he sympathizes with the difficulties facing suppliers.
“They’re in a situation where they’re operating with a minimal staff trying to comply with what the health people are asking them. And the puzzle supplies are dwindling,” he says.
“We just received an order this morning and we’ve got three more orders coming in next week. So, we’ll be swamped with puzzles. Hopefully, people will continue to buy them.”
Books continue to sell, but McDonald hasn’t noticed a strong shift in the types of books people are buying. Richard Powers’ Pulitzer-prize winning novel Overstory has been a frequently requested item, along with the usual mix of mystery novels, classic literature and self-help books.
Although the physical locations are closed, McDonald says Bookmark is doing better than he expected.
“If you think about what people are doing during this time, probably three of the main activities are watching movies, reading books and doing puzzles. And we’ve got two of the three of those things covered,” he says. “Our sales are down but they’re not down near where we thought that they would be at the beginning of this.”
As a way to bridge the gap, Bookmark has been encouraging people to buy gift cards.
“We’re pretty thankful for the support that we’re getting from the community,” says McDonald.
“We decided to promote that, and we’re donating ten per cent of whatever we sell in gift certificates to the local food banks both here in Charlottetown and in Halifax.”
Traditional crafting materials
Natasha Canning runs Slippers’n’Things in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador. Her store sells slippers and traditional Labrador crafting supplies. She’s noticed that people are buying things with practical use or for their own projects.
“Basically, now what people are buying from me are the handmade soaps, body butters and lotions. That’s been a huge, huge seller, I guess because people are using it anyway. It’s not like you're buying a piece of jewelry or a pair of sealskin boots,” says Canning.
“And we’ve been selling a lot of crafting materials like hides and beads and sinew and needles and furs and all that stuff.”
Canning thinks people, especially those out of work and stuck at home, are turning to crafting in order to feel productive and keep their hands busy.
“Wanting to do something other than just sitting on your butt watching Netflix, which I’ve done my fair share of the last month-and-a-half,” she says. “And people are probably sick of being on their phone or sick of being on the internet.”
The rewards of learning how to create real objects out of raw materials is something Canning believes will continue to attract people after the pandemic wanes.
“It’s like any crafting, people are going to want to learn. I think definitely people are going to start taking up more hobbies now with COVID-19 and a little bit of extra time at home.”
Canning is on both sides of the COVID-19 business equation. While she has continued to sell some crafting supplies, she’s also had to close the shop’s satellite airport location as well as the Robin’s Donuts at the airport. She had been planning to open a diner, but that’s been delayed and re-imagined as a takeout-only business for now. Still, she counts herself lucky to be in business at all.
“I don’t have any monies outstanding or anything like that. All of our inventory, we own it. So, we’re very, very lucky that way,” says Canning. “My dad owns the business with me, he’s a crafter as well, so he can produce quite a few materials. I can produce some things, so we’ve been pretty lucky that way.”
Old and new collide
At GJDE Enterprises Ltd-The Alphabet Store in Oxford, NS, owner Eric Mosher has had time to think about how lucky he is.
“I’m fortunate enough that I own my building, I don’t have to pay rent. I just pay the town taxes. I have an employee and it’s myself. It’s as streamlined as it can be for a small business. Chances are, if it was different than that, I wouldn’t be here,” says Mosher.
“I am very lucky, and I realize that and I'm very thankful for the support that I’ve had from the community, both at large and the immediate community.”
Mosher has seen an uptick in interest in puzzle and crafting materials.
“There’s definitely been an interest in puzzles and leisure time activity things, because people have a lot of time and not a lot to do,” says Mosher. “I have paint-by-numbers, there was a big resurgence in that. I have model kits as well. I would say two weeks ago, I was mailing five or six packages a day that were primarily puzzles or related to that activity.”
Knitting, puzzles, board games, cards, all connect us to the past because these are things we know our grandparents and great-grandparents did for fun. They are a comforting reminder, like rolls cooked from your granny’s recipe, he says. But Mosher thinks they’ve survived for reasons beyond mere nostalgia, which is why they will endure after the pandemic passes.
“Everybody wants to have something positive to do with their energy. I think there’s a lot of time spent on devices, and I think something other than that is a welcome thing,” says Mosher. “Whether or not we return to our own devices, who knows. But there’s certainly lots of time for reflection. And those things, like board games or working on a puzzle, it allows that. It’s an activity that you can kind of disappear in while you're doing it. You can sort of be in a meditative state.”
Mosher is not an online person by nature. He doesn’t own a smartphone and has an employee who helps him conduct online sales. Out of necessity, almost all his sales moved to his store’s Facebook page. Although he’s grateful this has helped him stay in business, he’s eager to return to in-person interaction.
“We need to experience things. And you can only do so much online. I think that this has made people realize that we need each other,” says Mosher. “You’re more aware that we’re all in our own battle. There's a bit more respect there, because people are going through a lot of different things. Hardship is not good, but you have to look for the good in it and what can come out of it.”