Chapter 1. You Like Me

I'm closing. These words are commonplace now.  In fact, it’s hard to wedge in an announcement because there are so many.  

I've said it many times to myself.  Written it down in letters to you, but never pressed send.  I couldn't. I didn't want to accept the finality of it all.

Even though the reality is there is no way to continue operating as a business, I tell myself.  

I don’t want to close.  Most of us don’t.  But the last 4 years have been an exercise in endurance.  I have endured.  I am proud of that.

But a shoe store in a world that no longer walks seems futile.  At lease that’s what the numbers say.  

This is a business.  It would be irresponsibe of me to put my family, my livlihood, my home, and my health at risk for the possiblity that someone might buy something - a pair of shoes for a special occasion, even if that means going to the grocery store. . . . a beautiful piece of clothing, a handmade pair of earrings . . .

And when that does happen, its like a drug to me.  I begin to rally. To feel like it is possible.  Like when Sally Fields declared in her Oscar acceptance speech for best actress for "Places in the Heart", "You like me! Right now! You like me!"

But alas, those moments are less frequent than they need to be. In fact the last year ZÖE was able to generate a sustainable income was 2019 before the pandemic took root in 2020 and has forever changed the way we live.  The fact is, the amount of income the store realized in 2019 and before hasn't been realized over the past four years, cumulatively.

And so herein lies the issue, and why I must write this long good bye letter. I need to process this.  

In order to close the store or stay open, I would need to send more shoes and clothing and accesories off to the world in 6 months than I have been able to since 2020.  That’s approximately 50 sales of $200 each month, for 4 months in a row.  

And yet, I tell myself, if that were possible again, to realize that level of sales in 4 to 6 months, like it was before the pandemic, then I wouldn't be having this conversation closing.  I might even find that glimmer of hope in the future.  I might not have even lost hope.  

You may say that I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one. - John Lennon 

Some people say I'm a dreamer, and it's true. I see things. But a dream without a plan and the ability to execute or even act is a waste of a dream.  Not all things work out. In fact, it’s more likely that reality and our response to reality will give shape to the dream over time.  

I saw ZÖE as a respite from the world. I saw a world where geography is irrelevant. I saw that shopping had to be a personal experience.

I introduced by appointment shopping in January 2020, supported by online shopping and “old school Saturday” when guests can shop without an appointment. 

I didn’t see a world wide pandemic that would alter our moment to moment realty, but during the pandemic I did see that there would be long lasting effects.  

When I started this business, there were so many things I didn’t know.  So many questions I didn’t know to ask.  I saw her through all the lessons that she would teach me, through each time we stumbled and fell, and got back up again, cried, laughed, danced . . .

Each time she fell, I thought it was over. I thought it couldn't get worse. That she couldn't survive it.

But through the pandemic, I discovered how low a business can sink and still survive. ZÖE was on life support and there was nothing I could do to make it better.  I couldn’t even close because I had too much inventory and people literally stopped walking and living.  And walking away was not an option for me, because there were consequences that I was not willing to accept.

Since there was no way around the storm, we walked through it.  

Thankfully I started a consulting contract in another province in March 2020 which saved my life and is the reason ZÖE is still here.

Size Matters in Shoes and Shoe Stores 

My business model makes even more sense in the pandemic world to operate on a by appointment basis and online because there are no people shopping on Main Street. They are online. And it’s efficient, allows me to work and still keep a door open without employees.

Coming through the pandemic, ZÖE's physical footprint is smaller than it was before. In fact, it's exactly the same size it was when I started in the Old City Hall Mall in 2016.  But the overhead cost is the lowest it's ever been in 8 years.  The thing about shrinking by 80% in revenue, survival means a smaller container. 

Growing out of that container takes investment, but capital and capacity are depleted. And taking a loan is definitely out of the question because it implies that there is a business case for growth.

So big is out. Small is in. But small has to compete with big to be seen in the world, and on our street, and therein lies the rub. It takes money to be seen and heard in the local and global economy. And that brings us head to head with the big box businesses who spend billions on search engine optimization every year, and who buy product at lower prices than I can.

Small businesses get pushed to compete on price, and with every item sold on sale, it's another turn of the key toward closure. The sale manipulation in retail is fundamentally what is wrong with the retail industry and what is destroying true value, leading to a throw away mindset and larger landfills.

Because what big box stores present as "sale" pricing is getting more margin than small business pricing.  It's a question of economies of scale, and small businesses inevitably lose in this game because we can't complete with their buying power.  

So we do what we can to differentiate, and that is in the service, products and environment.  The experience behind the door is beautiful. Even through the hardest times, each time it seemed futile, I would stand back and look at her, what she has been and what she means to me, and to others, how she exists out of sheer possibility, grit and love, and I would see that glimmer of optimism again, and find hope. And we would rally again.

Each time, I would ask myself - what have I missed? Where was my misstep?  What should I have done differently. 

I thought this time moving was the solution - like it seemed to be in years previous.  There was the move from 11th avenue to Badham, from Badham to 12th Avenue (where I survived the pandemic and move to a by appointment model) and then from 12th Avenue to 2120 Broad Street where we are currently. 

My dad has a saying - wherever you go, you take yourself with you.  He also used to tell me that holding on to pain or anger because of the way others have treated you, intentionally or not, only hurts you; the other person likely has no idea that he or she even affected you that way.

Sometimes I think my little business would thrive in another city.  In fact, many visitors have asked how it survives in Regina.  Tourism played a big part in my business before the pandemic. That’s another thing that has not recovered.

There are times when I feel Regina - the city - has failed my small business and in fact all small businesses.  I feel that there should have been more planning during the pandemic.  After all, we’re a very small city, so nimble should be our mantra. But what we have seen is a deteriorating downtown that seems intentional.  

And yes from before the pandemic to current day, there were and are many issues to be overcome in downtown’s every where, from crime to homelessness to safety and security of all.  When you stand back and look at it, it’s really one problem: how to make the downtown environment safe.  Safe to shop.  Safe to live.  Safe to walk.  Safe to do business. 

The failure to make downtowns safe has resulted in what we all see when we look out our windows: a non viable, unstable place for everyone from the people who work there to the people who live there. 

And so I resolved to make my shop an island for those who wish to be a part of our community.  A safe and beautiful respite from the moment of entering.


This year I thought - maybe a mall is the place to be.  But the price is higher, and the uncertainty is the same.  Because the environment is still the environment outside my door, where ever it is. Even if it’s outside of downtown, there are broader economic and social issues that we are all grappling with - from a health care crisis to an economic crisis, to an education crisis.  Literally every aspect of our society is in crisis. Add to that carbon tax and all the taxes on taxes. So is it any wonder that small business owners who are already financially and emotionally exhausted are facing these tough decisions? 

And moving a 5th time in 8 years - well that could be the definition of well, you know the word. Although each time  I moved there was a business rationale - there is no rationale now other than maybe more people will find me and I will be able to close and begin again.  

Hail Mary Moments

When I started this business in 2016, it was a brick and mortar boutique with an online value add.  Today it is an online shoppe with a brick and mortar value add.  

Online, ZÖE is being seen because online living - which includes shopping - is the way of the world. In fact, just today, two orders were from in the city, and both were picked up.  Plus 5 people walked in to shop after visiting my website. So that's exciting. Our online community includes Regina, Saskatchewan, across Canada, and the United States, with some international destinations. But it's not sustainable without scaling up given all the reasons I have shared here. 

Is it possible that this is the year that recovery happens?  That the store will see 2019 levels?  That somehow the internet will tell enough people about me.  That line of thinking, my friends, is the kind of thinking that has gotten me in trouble - the optimism of a good day extrapolating to the future. This idea that magic can indeed, happen for this little prairie city shoppe.  

I would like to be inspirational here, offer a perspective that will make it all feel better.  Since we like stories that end on a happy note.

But this is not the end of the story.



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