Everything your heart desires, as long as it desires stationery.

Still Closed: Calliope During COVID

I don’t know what I can say differently that you haven’t heard from every other small business you love, or from what you read in the paper or online. The only difference if it will be said in my voice, and that’s what you guys come here for, right?

Shit’s weird.

Let’s start at the beginning. Halfway through March, more and more businesses and shops my size close up. I used to love seeing a pretty shelfie from my favorite shops on Instagram, but in March ’20 that started to mean one thing: “we’re closing”. It felt like a killer was making it’s way down a hallway, stabbing everyone in each room, and soon he would come for me. And on March 19th, 3 years to the day of the car crash that almost took my dream away the first time, a worldwide health crisis forced my door shut.

Like every other business, I was afraid. And wondered if it would really all be over in 2 weeks. What if it wasn’t? What would happen to me? How could I survive? I knew what I had to make to at least pay my bills. Could I do it all online? I was relieved my store had been fully online since 2014 and I had a trickle of orders every week but there was no way that would be enough. I was also terrified for my makers. They are the reason I am successful; their genius. With all the stores closed (and a shocking number of them without online presence) the makers had NO income. And I heard from some that stores were canceling huge future orders left and right which left them high and dry with an enormous amount of product and no buyers. Would there be anyone to buy from on the other side of this? My precious friends who make all my beautiful things!

Thankfully, a rise of support came from every which way to “Support Small Business!” and along with many other small businesses, I reached out to all my customers via Instagram and Facebook to please help me, to help us all, and shop small as much as possible. And you came through! Day after day those first few weeks I was inundated with orders; an influx of orders like I had never seen.

But there was no way it could continue. I braced myself for the day I made only $100. $5. No dollars. I started making care packages and everyone loved them! I was making them for friends, kids of friends, nurses, teachers, people who lost their jobs. I shipped out cards by the handful because people needed connection. I remember the first order I placed for new product. I was terrified to spend any money but I didn’t have anything to sell! But I bought more and more because the orders kept coming.

Months passed. And still the orders came. And then came the day a large retailer came knocking, wanting my pencils. Reader, #blessed doesn’t even cover it. Don’t misunderstand; I still wait for that no dollars day. Every business does, pandemic or no. But it hasn’t come. The days of getting $1k+ of orders a day are pretty rare now, but I’m ok. I’m better than ok. And it is all because of you.

So where am I now? I’m still holed up in my store.

MA Gov. Baker said retail could open quite a while ago but I’m still closed. And there are a few reasons for that. Firstly, I am so flat out busy I don’t have the time to even put price stickers on things! I am all alone in my store packing orders, answering email, receiving new things weekly, getting on social to talk about it, making pencils, taking care of the wholesale wing of Calliope, as well as all the hundreds of other tiny things I do. I can’t hire anyone because my store is too small and so packed with boxes and packing materials, there is only a swath of floor wide enough for me to move around.

Secondly, how do I manage all the orders I get every day if I am also open? If I spend literally every minute pulling product for orders, how do I add taking care of shoppers to that? The products online are the same as the ones on the shelf. And I am usually behind on orders. So what if that one little notebook Becky has in her hand was already sold, but I didn’t know it because I haven’t gotten to that order just yet?

It feels like that scene in Deathly Hallows when Harry, Ron, and Hermione are trapped in Bellatrix’s vault and everything they touch immediately multiplies and piles up around them. I try to move things, but the space I clear is somehow immediately occupied by something else. I have more product that I can actually fit on my shelves. Because of the shortages of packaging supplies, I have ordered boxes upon boxes of mailers and bags and tissue that are wedged into every spare (and even some not-spare) space in my basement. When I actually do plan to open, I haven’t even the foggiest how to actually put my little store back together. And you guys know I have re-opened MANY times. I am the queen of setting a store for opening; having done it 3 times for the same space! To say it is overwhelming is the understatement of the year.

The level of stress inside my tiny 400-sq-ft bubble is already at an alarming high, but outside my cheery yellow door there is still a pandemic, civil unrest, a literal monster for a president, the possible collapse of the only institution keeping small business alive, as well as the hurts and fear and anger of every person walking around everywhere who are grateful a mask covers their pain and for once don’t have to smile fake smiles at passersby.

Still, I am grateful. I am alive and healthy. And so is my brave little Calliope.

When I was little, and I cried, my mom would say it will be ok because “We are Anagnos women!” Calliope is an Anagnos woman, too. Figuratively and literally. Still, she stands.

September has been, is, and will be a brutal month. Both my orders for the afore-mentioned large retailer are due, all my holiday product arrives, and I also have to prep and ship over 80 subscription boxes. Along with all the other things I do every day. But my hope, and my plan, is that I will be open for shopping appointments beginning in October.

Things may not have stickers. Most things won’t. It will take me a while to ring you up. I will not know the exact price of everything. There may still be a box here and there, and there will definitely be bubble mailers under the tables. But I want to be open. I miss you guys a lot. I want you to try the pens. I want you to laugh at the cards. I want to feel safe, and I want you to feel safe, too. So that’s where we are. And I’m still here and if you ever need me, I am an IG DM away.

And thank you THANK YOU from the bottom of everything that has a bottom. I’ll see you soon, ok?