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Hamilton coming together in uncertain times How businesses and museums have adapted to the COVID-19 outbreak

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Photo C/O Motel

By Adrian Salopek, Staff Writer

News of the first COVID-19 related death in Hamilton came just two weeks ago. The outbreak has had devastating effects on communities across Canada, and Hamilton is no exception. Local businesses and members of the Hamilton arts community have suffered economically, as many have had to shut their doors to prevent the spread of the virus. However, in the midst of this stress and uncertainty, community members are coming together through acts of generosity and resourcefulness.

As all non-essential businesses were recently forced to close, most businesses across Hamilton have indefinitely closed their doors. Small businesses like Big B Comics (1045 Upper James St.), a local comic book store, have suffered major losses and so have their entire staff. For many, the COVID-19 outbreak has meant disappearing paychecks or even sudden unemployment. 

“Our staffing needs were cut dramatically in the blink of an eye,” said Dylan Routledge, manager of Big B Comics.

However, businesses are not losing hope. Many businesses, Big B Comics included, have implemented  new methods of serving their customers while taking all precautions to avoid spreading the virus.

“[We had to] be innovative and inventive in our approach to business,” explained Routledge, “We instituted a ‘door pick up’ system, wherein customers can collect their products at the door but aren’t allowed to enter the store.” 

Businesses within the food industry have also been stepping up. Motel (359 Barton St. East), a local brunch restaurant, created take-out packages for their customers. These allow customers to still enjoy their food while trying to give them a taste of the experience that they would have had in the restaurant. 

“We created brunch packages that mirror the fun you would have in the restaurant,” said Chris Hewlett, owner of Motel. Hewlett and his team are now offering specials that include two entrées and a side dish. To further push the limits, the brunch restaurant is also including decorative tropical decor, including palm leaves, cocktail beach umbrellas, and a light-up neon sign of your choice. The special and regular menu items can all be picked up curbside to help reduce contact between customers and employees.

Businesses and community members alike are not only being resourceful in this dark time, but are also coming together through acts of generosity. It is often said that in the hardest of times, the best in people is revealed, and the actions of many in Hamilton have lived up to this. Vintage Coffee Roasters (977 King St. East), a local family-run coffee shop, has witnessed this in both their own customers and the wider Hamilton community. 

“I have been seeing so many posts on social media of [both] our customers and community members reaching out to neighbours and helping out with food purchases or other errands,” explained Lisa Stanton, Vintage Coffee Roasters owner. “Many of our customers were buying beans to be delivered to their friends who may be in quarantine.” 

Some businesses have even attempted to give back to the community by making tangible efforts to help those at the front lines of the fight against COVID-19. A notable example of this is Motel with their generous support for healthcare workers. 

We also decided that at this time we wanted to do business mixed with ways to help our community,” said Hewlett, “We offer call ahead free coffee for healthcare workers. We are also using our suppliers to get produce packs to people so they can purchase eggs, bread and fresh produce.” 

While local businesses have suffered major financial losses, the arts community has also suffered due to the outbreak and closures. Hamilton Artists Inc. (155 James St. North), an art gallery downtown, had to close its doors to the public and spring exhibitions had to be cancelled. This was a blow to not only the gallery and the Hamilton community, but also to local artists. 

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Have you noticed Catherine Blackburn's installation on our Cannon Project Wall? "Narhî Wasagabiich" celebrates traditional Indigenous garment-making and adorning, practices that express women’s care for their families and communities. Reinventing beadwork techniques she learned from her loved ones, Catherine uses contemporary plastic Perler beads to create futuristic “new world armours” that empower and protect their wearers. "Narhî Wasagabiich" means “Strong Spirits” in the Stoney Nakoda Îyithka language. This piece is part of Catherine's series called "New Age Warriors" in which she uses garment-making, beadwork, and photography to envision a future where the voices and contributions of Indigenous women, two-spirited, and non-binary persons are acknowledged and celebrated. This project is part of our National Billboard Exchange with @aka_artist_run and @pavedarts ⚡

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“I want to remind people that nonprofits and charities are struggling too, and that even small donations towards these organizations can go a long way,” stressed Julie Dring, Hamilton Artists Inc. Executive Director. “Many of the artist-run centres and arts organizations in Hamilton support artists by paying Canadian Artists’ Representation rates to artists. Donating to your local artist-run centre is a great way to aid artists who are experiencing lost income during this time.” 

McMaster’s very own Museum of Art has also suffered in this stressful time, having to close its doors and cancel all events. This has not only affected the museum and its staff, but also McMaster students. 

“One of the most significant cancellations at this time is the annual student studio programme (SUMMA) graduation exhibition,” explained Carol Podedworny, the museum’s director. “[It is] cumulative, following four years of study for the students . . . We engage a guest curator for the project from the Canadian arts community this year, local artist Stylo Starr. It is disappointing that the students will not experience this event.”

Much like their business counterparts, the arts community has had to become resourceful in order to survive the pandemic. 

“I think art can be a balm,” said Podedworny. “I think in the COVID world, art museums through a virtual presence (exhibitions, programs, inter-actives, didactics) can provide answers, reflections and opportunities for wellness and self-care.”

It is saddening to see so many businesses, art services and community members negatively impacted by COVID-19. On a positive note, much good has come from this dark time as Hamiltonians make efforts to support one another. Here’s hoping that we don’t forget the lessons learned and the efforts that people have made to help one another. 

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