Yesterday two women wearing masks happened into our shoppe and our dog Yogi ran to the door to greet them. They smiled, and said, "there's the little dog!" They shopped a little and shared their favourite dog stories, and of course talked in special dog voices to Yogi, like we all do.
The last time they had been here was 23 years ago, when the original founder Jim was the keeper of the Zoe name. Jim had a little white dog named Zoe, the sweet soul after whom the store was named almost 40 years ago.
Fast forward to 2020. I became the keeper of the Zoe legacy in Regina in 2016. So much has changed in the last five years, let alone the past four decades. Back when Jim had the shoppe, the online world was non existent. People shopped in person. They dressed for work and went places in their community.
Over the past five years, the rise of online shopping has been growing steadily. We saw the online wave coming, and prepared by launching an online store in 2017. We never dreamed it would be a replacement for our beautiful shoppe but it has become the new way of being in retail.
Now more people frequent our online store than who walk through our door, especially during COVID times. This year we had to pivot and reset the business in order to survive. We moved to a personal shopping experience to ensure a safe and personal experience and focus exclusively on Canadian design. We want our guests to be at home with us. And our little Yogi is with us at the store most days, watching the birds on 12th Avenue. Yogi is part of the ZÖE legacy.
Life looks different than it did in Jim's time on 11th Avenue. There's not much traffic in downtown Regina, because people are working from home, and those who are in their offices are focused on limiting their bubbles and interactions for safety reasons. I completely understand that. And I support that. We need to look after each other in order to get through this safely.
COVID was a forced reinvention and continues to dictate the way our business is allowed to operate. Masks, hand sanitizing, cleaning practices and shopping by appointment can feel like a deterrent to people. But it's just life now. There is no "old way"; there is this way.
This is not our first reinvention. This is our third reinvention in five years. From a new branding strategy in 2016 and a renoviction from the 11th Avenue location to a new location in 2017 (which failed in 2018) and a new start again downtown on 12th Avenue in 2018.
Through all of it though, ZÖE has always been a destination known for beautiful and rare pieces. Relationships are everything to us.
As a small business owner, I take pride in my business and the experience of shopping here. I support my independent community and take part in telling our collective story. And I participate in supporting other small businesses owned by independents in our city. I call it "Practicing Independent". I shop for food at an independently owned grocery store. I practice yoga at independently owned yoga studios. I choose product for my life and my store that is created by independent makers.
Like most of us, we are resilient and thankful to still be here. We can’t sit back on our laurels. Every day is a new day and a new opportunity to make it better. Each step is an important step. The walk matters.
It’s romantic almost. The quest of the small business owner . . . but to be clear, what has really happened is that small business owners are carrying their business themselves and finding ways to reinvent at a personal cost.
Small business is the heart of our community because we are the community. We are the dreamers and the innovators. We are your neighbors. Your customers. Your parents. Your children. Your grandparents. Your biggest cheerleaders.
I love my business and the difference I can make with it. And I am thankful that people still walk through the door of ZÖE and feel its spirit after almost four decades.
Today is the Halloween - the day when spirits come to life. Be safe and tomorrow and the day after, practice independent, and help us all keep the spirit of our community strong.