January 06, 2021 7 min read
How do you describe 2020? How do you put into words a global shared experience as a business? Everyone is taught to be positive and light hearted, especially with a family business like mine. This is a hard year to do that, but we are ok.
The year started on the heels of a very fun and successful 2019. The best year we've had both in terms of Mystic Knotwork and for Jill and I personally. We were 'flying high' with all the visions for 2020 and the fun we were going to have playing with the images and puns that come from it.
For those that don't understand the tourism and summer recreation focused businesses, the work we do in the summer pays for the work we do in the winter preparing for that next summer. Right now, we are all happily working for our guests in person and online that we'll help again in the Spring.
During last winter, we were hearing whispers of an issue, so we invested to be sure we had all the rope, cord, and shackles we would need in case something 'broke' and we couldn't get stuff. That was early February. We all know what happened from there.
March was an 'interesting month,' we closed our storefront about 10 days before the governor of Connecticut ordered all the shops in downtown Mystic (and the rest of the state). We were 'at the bottom of our savings' as I said earlier, January and February aren't our months. We closed our workshops to the public and spread out to keep working, knowing that 14 days to slow the spread, 30 days to flatten the curve, and all that would be helped if we worked more than 15 feet apart. We were very fortunate that the team took their safety very seriously.
During that same time, something miraculous happened. We were really struggling in March. The big trade show in Portland, New England Made, was cancelled WHILE we were loading the van to go. This is usually when we start rebuilding from the slow winter months. Jill and I didn't know what we'd do, but we had an idea.
In my mind, since we were screwed and might not make it, we might as well help someone else. So, we decided to pick a charity. Given that most of the tourist trade employees were out of work, this was before the unemployment help arrived, we decided the most important thing to do was feed our neighbors, so we did a fundraiser for the local food pantry, the Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center. Through that fundraiser, we raised both over $1,000 for the food bank, but we also brought in enough money to keep going for another month. This was what we needed to keep going.
During this same time period, once we were closed to the public, Jill and I were volunteered to help take care of my 93 year old grandmother. If you were watching our Instagram in March, April, and May, you'll learn more about the town of Noank while we were staying there and exploring the out of the way places in her town. This was the first time I 'slept over' in decades and it was so much fun spending time with her. For 93, she was doing great, but her mild memory issues created some REALLY fun memories for me to carry forward. I learned to leave my plate with me so she wouldn't feed me my 3rd breakfast :) Between being there and working to fundraise for the foodbank, Jill and I were able to keep our sanity.
You all online gave us so much energy. This was the busiest Spring we have ever had. During the shutdown, you kept us running and energized. We were running with a smaller team so we could be sure to stay 'socially distant,' but we were all in good spirits. My normal community outreach and small artisan advocacy was stopped because of the shutdown, so I became a student of the infection. Having worked in hospitals for nearly a decade along with a mom that served as a nurse for about 30 years, I felt it important to stay informed and pass what I learned.
We made a point of sharing that energy. While our own money was really tight, we knew our neighbors were suffering worse. We gave our social network space to show off our local neighbor businesses, we bought as much takeout as we could afford, and tried to keep spirits high while we waited out the pandemic.
May 20 was our turn to be open to the public. Mystic Knotwork is known for being a 'hot spot' to visit in Connecticut. We are one of the few retail stores with space on the states tourism site, CTVISIT.GOV, but we had to limit ourselves. The guidelines were a little vague, and I felt didn't quite go far enough, so we 'made up our own.' There were rules to keep our team and guests safe while open to the public. You'll see the plastic shields and the 'manila room' is closed off by overlapping clear shower curtains and a filtration fan. The windows are open at least an hour a day if the temperature is over 50 degrees, and we have 7 hepa filters running if the windows aren't. We all take temperature checks every morning and have those numbers logged since March. Hand sanitizer! At one point, we had over 5 gallons of it and helped restock our neighboring shops thanks to SONO1420that converted their distillery to make sanitizer during this crisis.
Fully compliant with the state's guidance along with additional precautions we took, the front door was unlocked. We decided that 7 people in 2 groups was enough people visiting at a time. Two groups helps keep excited kids sorted, we've seen how much fun kids from different families can connect over our knotwork and felt we should give the parents a hand with that additional restriction keeping us all safer.
Surprisingly, no one stormed the doors. Our online sales, you all, kept us afloat, but slowly our local neighbors started venturing forth. The conversations really lifted all our spirits and the 'small town vibe' was in full effect without tourism. it felt like it did when I was a kid, for good or bad. As the summer went on, people started exploring all the ways people could get on the river and into the ocean. So many kayaks, so many paddle boarders. Social distance is natural when you are in your own boat. The guests were filtering in and a gentle rhythm of life returned to Mystic by mid June.
The summer was good to us, both in shop and online. Jill and I were able to take some walks, even took the boat out ourselves a few times. I missed all the tourists venturing into our town, but I did enjoy chatting and catching up with the locals.
Did I mention, the week before the formal shutdown, Mystic Knotwork was named 'Small Business of the Year' for Connecticut by the SBA? I learned only a few months later that this is the highest small business honor we could get. The year was so full of energy, I didn't realize how 'prestigious' that award is. What was to be an awards week in DC back in May turned into a Zoom meeting in September, but still, it's humbling to lead a team that earned that award.
As we entered the fall, and holiday season, the vibe in town stayed reserved but pleasant. Then November hit.
My grandmother, mentioned above, fell and broke her hip at home. Subsequently she ended up in the nursing home as she was beyond what our family could support. She became an unfortunate victim to this year's plague the week before Thanksgiving. It's a story many of us can, unfortunately share, but thankfully my time with her this Spring created fresh memories that I can carry forward. At the same time, Jill, my wife, suffered a burst appendix. She's healed up well, but it was a dark week for the shop and the personal strain was rough.
What was a crazy, negative November shifted to a very positive and energized December.
This fall, the local news stations took an interest in our shop and how online sales are saving some Connecticut businesses. NBC CT came to the shop to interview Jill and I. Then Jill had her first speaking role on NBC CT, on Dec. 22. We were also featured on Fox61, A Local Holiday Business Salute https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7GWYrtQDOkU
The holiday season was amazing. You all supported our small business, and I'm sure others, in ways I could never have imagined. We did suffer some darker moments ourselves during the Thanksgiving week especially.
I suppose, this is a business blog, I need to plug a product.
Megan Taylor, one of our artisans here was playing around with the snowman and asked, 'why not a Santa.' She and Sarah Clement came up with a great design. It was a huge hit this year and almost as many trees were decorated with a Santa Claus this year as we sent Snowmen.
As I sit here, January 6, 2021, thinking about the year that was 2020, it is one that I won't forget. There are many things I wish didn't happen, but I learned the reliancy of our team, our community, and the support of friends and customers around the world.
I am thankful to you. It's your support, your encouragement, and our shared passion for knots and tradition that keep us doing what we love to do.
Here is to 2021, let's finish the good work started through 2020 and make '21 a year to celebrate the combined effort of us all to put the plague behind us.