LOOKING BACK ON COVID IN 2020
Hello! It’s been so long, where has the time gone? January is in our rearview and 2021 is well underway. The COVID-19 Pandemic has changed us, and our business, in ways we could not have foreseen a year ago. Now, with a social moment upon us, and our state government re-assessing COVID safety mandates, we thought we’d take a look back in order to look forward.
HOW WE COPED
A year ago, things looked a lot different at Noteworthy in Missoula, Montana. February was a lovely month of business as usual. We hosted our local art walk, known in Missoula as First Friday, with loads of people crowded into our space (imagine that!) and our wholesale team was in New York City for the NYNow Gift Show. The whole idea of COVID was brand new, but they brought a few masks just in case. There were big dreams and big goals for 2020 with few obstacles in our way—or so we thought.
In early March, Taylor [Valliant] having embarked on a failed European family vacation — with international borders closing all around them, was seeking a way back home, while Amy [Dolan] was desperately trying to reach her to talk about the growing urgency of the situation back home. Hard options loomed—so many places were closing for safety, should Noteworthy stay open? Reduce staff or store hours? Lay employees off entirely? How will employees pay their rent, buy food? How will Noteworthy (or any of us) survive this? Everything felt BIG, and big decisions had to be made.
Within days, Taylor was quarantining at home and Noteworthy had begun implementing a series of steps to reduce the coming impact of COVID-19. The first step was to reduce hours, and send staff that could do so to work from home. COVID safety didn’t have an instruction manual. It was a problem none of the last few generations had ever dealt with before—the idea that people would not be able to come to work, or that a retail store might be a dangerous place, was new ground. Amy and Taylor realized they had to listen, and think, and slow. way. down.
They decided to close the shop on March 22nd, (in just about a week MT would implement a stay at home order and NYC would be experiencing its peak Covid surge) and the shop wouldn’t reopen until May 11th.
Noteworthy is lucky in that it is part of a thriving small business community in Missoula, with many businesses owned by friends and other women entrepreneurs. This community almost immediately realized that it would be better off figuring out solutions for survival together. There were weekly meetings to discuss safe re-openings and operations, signage and mask wearing, current numbers, government funding, and projections. While the Missoula County Health Department was still assessing the level of risk and what measures to take for the safety of its citizens and the local economy, business leaders joined together proactively to request a mask mandate in all business establishments. They invited the Incident Commander of the County Health Department to attend the meetings. It was so good to share information and communicate about what was happening on the ground and how everyone was navigating the challenges. Small businesses in Missoula found a way to help people connect, feel like they matter, and find gratitude in that shared purpose.
WHAT WE’VE COME TO VALUE
Over the last year, this gratitude has surpassed our fear. We are grateful for the relief funding made available to small businesses by local and federal governments. Noteworthy has survived, thanks in no small part to the federal PPP funding. This money ensured that we could pay our small family of employees while we were closed and the state’s Stabilization Grant ensured we could keep paying them, despite struggling cash flows. The money for a new HEPA air filtration system, portable air purifiers, buckets of hand sanitizer, loads of PPE, tools and tech for at-home staff came from the state’s Adaptation Grant, which refunded businesses for all Covid-related expenses. Though some businesses like restaurants and bars were harder hit the support we received was sufficient and, overall, a success for similar small businesses.
Our gratitude also extends beyond Montana to the network of businesses to whom Noteworthy provides wholesale goods and to those near and far who have chosen us for custom and collaborative projects. Having multiple income streams through Wholesale, Custom, and Retail services allowed us to weather this storm so far with safety, health, and care for our customers and staff (the heart of our concern). Additionally, we used the opportunity of a temporary shop closure to move our retail store online and transition our point of sale system, a change which has been a long time coming — when life gives you lemons! We were able to give some retail staff work from home to make this happen. We now use Shopify which not only integrates with facebook and instagram driving so much more traffic to our site but also allows for curbside pickup which has been so helpful to many in our community. This was a bright light for us during this time, and our website is now thriving!
Our gratitude doubled when we did open again and we realized that the Missoula community trusted local retailers enough to start shopping in person again. Although nothing can replace the fulfillment of giving back to our neighbors through in person events like First Friday (remember those joyful evenings out and about with friends full of local art and good wine?), and our hearts ache — yearn — for the return of these social events. Over the last year we have poured this desire to connect into everything that we’ve been making and doing, down to our daily interactions with those of you who have come to see us. Safe connection is connective nonetheless.
While many things have changed, the heart of Noteworthy has not. We have always been a place for connection, inspiration, and laughter. It is Noteworthy’s mission to share our love of artisan goods, gifts and the connection they inspire, and this love of sharing and community will never diminish.
HOW WE ARE FACING THE FUTURE IN THIS NEW YEAR
Recently, with the rise of racism and division in our country, our staff have been asking, “How do we work now, at this time, with so much going on?” And so we’re talking about it—we are a place that understands how essential communication is to the strength and unity of our staff, and more broadly to our society. From the advent of the printing press, printing establishments have been thrust into the fray of social and political change because of their ability to disseminate information far and wide. Noteworthy is picking up that thread by printing our own proclamations of our core social and community values. We donated almost $1400 to BIPOC organizations through the sale of our Black Lives Matter posters, as well as gave "Keep It Covered, Masks Required" posters for free to local businesses. More recently, we handed out "No Hate in Our State" posters for free to anyone who wanted one in the wake of the events in D.C.
Taylor mentioned the other day that art and letterpress printing are repetitive, meditative actions that allow the mind to find solace and purpose. It’s important to offer employment that gives people that sense of purpose and direction as well as an outlet for creativity. Art is a necessary foundation for humanity, and for a just society. We at Noteworthy, know that our shop is also a place for artists to find work making and expressing, for starting and holding conversations about society, art, and making.
As we look toward spring 2021, we find that we have grown with these struggles, and remain a healthy place for communication and connection. People are sending cards and letters with a new level of appreciation for what it means to be able to be together. We take that seriously, and we will be focused on that vital part of life both in, and after, COVID.