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No Small Thing

In the winter of 1998, my wife Shonna and I took a trip to Las Vegas.

It was the early days of the internet, so we booked through a travel agent, which is why we ended up at the Treasure Island hotel. A pirate ship battle in the lagoon multiple times every night? What’s not to love?

My friend Bruno took care of our cats, and I asked him if there was anything he wanted from Vegas. He said a friend of his had brought back a glass skull beer mug from the same hotel, and he wanted one of those. I was happy to oblige.

In 2010, I began going back to Vegas on my own each year for the Photoshop World Conference. After hearing my stories about great food, whining that I was always too busy to do anything while I was there, we decided to return to Vegas for a vacation in 2013.

We stayed in a suite at Mandalay Bay, I introduced my foodie wife to some restaurants, and we had a great time. We went to the shooting range, took an open cockpit biplane flight over the Hoover Dam, and went skydiving for the first time, the highlight of our trip.

One day, we took the bus to the other end of the strip and made a day of walking back to our hotel, stopping in at restaurants and attractions along the way. When I saw Treasure Island, I thought about that mug and wondered if they had skull shot glasses.

I’m not a big drinker, but my spirit of choice is amber rum. In keeping with the whole pirate-rum thing, I’d long wanted a skull shot glass, a silly but harmless indulgence.

They didn’t have them, and I was a little disappointed.

Fast forward a year or two, and we were in a gift shop on Main Street here in Canmore, with a visiting friend. While wandering the shelves, I laughed when I came across a set of four skull-shaped shot glasses, right in my hometown. I bought them on the spot.

These days, if I wanted them, I’d probably go to Amazon and yep…set of 4, less than $25.

I like my story better.

Dumpster fire, steaming pile of…er…manure, train wreck, these are just a few of the phrases I’ve heard to describe 2020. The pandemic has changed the planet.

An optimist might suggest looking for the silver lining, appreciate the little things, realize what’s truly important and learn to live with less. But it’s hard to make that shift when you’ve had your salary cut in half, your kids’ education hobbled, all plans cancelled, and the dark cloud of uncertainty steals the colour from every sunrise.

That’s even if you still have a job.

The thought of a trip to Vegas right now makes me shudder. No thanks.

Putting aside the politics and rhetoric, the armchair epidemiology summit that convenes online every day, and the pervasive rage surrounding any discussion about viruses and vaccines, we’re all hurting and miserable.

Hardly a week goes by that I don’t hear someone’s story of how this has affected their business, usually in a way I hadn’t considered.

The sandwich shop owner in downtown Calgary who relied on the busy lunch hour crowd that no longer exists. The event auditorium manager, one eye on the empty seats and the other on his bank account. The clothing store owner who was already competing hard with online shopping, now wonders why she opens her doors.

And the gift shop in a tourist town.

These people have families to support, mortgages, rent, debts and face the same uncertain futures as everybody else.

When one business fails, and another and another, then communities fail. For want of a nail and all that.

As a self-employed artist, a profession that has traditionally been synonymous with financial failure, this year has been the same kick in the crotch for me like everyone else. I’m fortunate that I’m still able to pay the bills, but it’s a good thing we can’t go anywhere because luxuries are not in the budget.

Every time I send out a newsletter or marketing post this year, it feels a little like panhandling. I know that many other business owners, both home occupation and brick-and-mortar, feel the same way. It’s hard to make the ask when you know money is tight.

I’m fortunate to have what I consider a large following of supporters, many of whom have been cheering me on for years. I appreciate those folks now more than ever, not just the ones who buy my artwork, but all of them. Some days, they simply give me a reason to get out of bed in the morning and keep trying. That’s no small thing.

Most business owners feel the same way about their loyal customers, clients and supporters.

I get that Amazon is cheaper, has free shipping and easy returns. I know that Costco, Walmart and similar behemoths offer a convenience you can’t find anywhere else.

I’m not going to be a hypocrite. I shop at these places, and I will continue to do so. They employ people in the community, too, but they’re not in danger of going under anytime soon. Amazon doesn’t need your money.

Small businesses and the self-employed are struggling. This year will be the last for some of them. Many of those businesses employ others, and when the closed sign goes up on the door for the last time, those people will be looking for work, where there’s no work to be found.

Communities are an intricate web of connection. When you start cutting threads, it falls apart.

Small businesses support local events, community initiatives, school programs, sports teams and a whole lot more. They are continually asked for donations of product, time and money. While Amazon does give generously to charities, they’re not going to supply the coffee or hot dog buns for your kid’s hockey tournament.

So here’s today’s pitch.

Support small business.

It’s trite, cliché; we hear it all the time. I know.

Support small business.

I’m not saying do all of your shopping locally. Paying $50 for something at a local store that you can get online for $20 when you’re already financially strapped, that’s a hard sell.

But how about one or two things, especially for this year’s holiday season? Buy a gift with a story behind it, include a note about the excellent service at the little store where you bought it. Buy a gift card from the locally-owned coffee shop, the one where the owners have greeted you by name for decades, ask about your kids, and how you’re holding up.

And not to be too obvious, but how about buying from an independent creative type? We’re all over the place.

Give a gift as you’d want to receive one, with some thought and effort. Spread some good feelings in a time when we could all use it.

To quote from Bon Jovi’s latest offering, “When you can’t do what you do, you do what you can.”

Living in Alberta, I hear many angry people talking about how Canada has turned its back on Canadian oil, buying from other countries. While I’m sure it’s more complicated than a Facebook meme (it always is), I understand that sentiment.

It’s hard not to be frustrated when Canadians choose not to support Canadians.

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© Patrick LaMontagne
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Face Masks: The First Order

In addition to the usual daily editorial cartoons, this business of face masks has occupied the majority of my last few weeks. The response from my newsletter subscribers was overwhelming and far exceeded my expectations. While there were delays for various reasons, and I sent regular updates to those who ordered, it all came together this past week.

With two shipments from Pacific Music and Art, three evening visits to Shonna’s work to use the postage meter, four visits to the post office, and one trip to Bow Valley Basics when I ran out of large bubble mailers, not to mention the hours of sorting, checking and double-checking the list, it’s been a challenge.
I made two trips around Canmore delivering masks, one trip to Banff yesterday morning, and by the end of day yesterday, the bulk of this adventure has been completed.

(I did come home from Banff with home-baked cookies. Thanks, Helen!)

As of yesterday, all of the Canadian orders have been delivered or shipped. There are a couple more minor deliveries I need to make, and the U.S. orders will go out Tuesday morning. Monday is a holiday here in Canada so the post office will be closed. The US orders are a little more work with Customs forms and the fact that they have to go as small parcels, rather than regular large letter mail like the Canadian shipments.

The masks just didn’t arrive in time for me to get all of that done by the cut-off yesterday.
I sent a bunch of masks to Discovery Wildlife Park and The Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation yesterday, both places I’m anxious to visit as soon as I’m allowed. My friend Serena said they can’t wear masks around the animals as it freaks them out, but I donated them for the keepers to use in their regular day to day lives wherever it might be required.

The first orders were sent Wednesday morning and some in Calgary already got them. People have been kind enough to send me photos, which was fun to see. I’m sharing them here with permission.

I’ve been getting many requests for a second order, but making no promises, as this situation seems to change every five minutes. Right now, the demand is incredibly high but I don’t know if that will continue. It seems some are switching gears from extremely diligent to, “screw it, who cares?”

For example, Alberta was still advising caution on Thursday, and then yesterday announced, “Hey, it’s the long weekend, have at ‘er!”

I’m not sure how a large group of people having a backyard BBQ are expected to keep a 6 ft. distance outside, but then all go into the house to use the same bathroom and hand towels. Not to mention that it’s well established that alcohol and impaired judgment go hand in hand. Hopefully, in hindsight, this won’t be referred to as the Victoria Day Petri Dish Debacle.

Guess we’ll see what happens.

All of the masks contained an additional method of ensuring a good fit.

Some received a little packet inside containing a couple of rubber grommets. Since the actual grommets are still on back-order, the owner of Pacific Music and Art tried a number of different solutions and came up with surgical tubing. He then cut it into little pieces, and included instructions on how to attach them. Because I wanted to make sure I had all of the masks for the orders, I only took one mask out for myself this week; to wear into the post office and other confined spaces. The grommet solution worked very well. They stayed in place and allowed me to put the mask on and take it off without touching the front of it, which is what ‘they’ advise.
While that first shipment arrived with the grommets, the second shipment included plastic pieces that go behind your head. The ear loops attach to different prongs and make it adjustable. Some have been calling these ear savers, as thin elastic ear loops are irritating the wearer. In the limited time I wore my mask, I found the grommets worked well and didn’t find the loops to be a problem.

Some orders will receive a mix of grommets and those plastic fasteners.
Production costs were higher than expected and prices have been adjusted accordingly. If you did get the plastic piece, count yourself fortunate. On future mask orders, those will be an add-on with additional cost of $3.00. The masks themselves have gone up in price. $15.99 for the large, $14.99 for the small.

So while my newsletter customers had to be patient through delays on the first order, they got the masks at a much better price, with additional fasteners at no extra cost.

I’ve had three people this week tell me to send them a text when the next order is available. That’s not realistic. For any future offers, sign up for my newsletter, as that’s where I’ll announce it.

Since I haven’t had any time to do so lately, I wanted to get up and start a new painting this morning, but that didn’t happen. I still have plenty of work to do today, but I’m not in the right frame of mind for the creative stuff. I’ve been hearing a lot about idle time and boredom during this isolation and how people are trying to occupy themselves. I haven’t experienced any of that. I’m worn out.

Thanks to all who ordered the masks and were so patient throughout the process.

Cheers,
Patrick
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© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
Sign up for my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.