Tim Drake starts to get choked up when he talks about the support his community has given him.
“It’s what keeps us going,” he says before pausing to collect himself. “People coming and saying thank you has made us work harder and it’s made it easier to do the work.”
Tim, is the co-owner of Close to Home Grocery and Deli in Promontory, along with his wife, Sophie.
Their lives were upended about five weeks ago when self-isolation and social-distancing became a part of our shared vocabulary.
As people rushed out of their doors and in through his in search of toilet paper and other items, the local grocer and his staff scrambled to adapt.
“It exploded all at once, and if it wasn’t for the community and my staff we wouldn’t be here right now,” Tim said. “We’d have had to shut down. There’s no way Sophie and I could run it ourselves.
“We were up late so many nights asking ourselves, ‘How do we do this thing and that thing with the social distancing? We were beside ourselves at one point trying to figure out how to do this.”
Part of the strategy Tim and Sophie employed in early days was using Facebook to communicate with customers.
He’s not a big fan of the platform, believing it to be overly negative. But they saw it as the best way to reach a lot of people through the Promontory Community page.
“And the reaction I got when I started posting was overwhelmingly positive,” Tim said. “When I said we might have to reduce our hours or close one day a week, people said, ‘Do whatever you have to do.’
“It was amazing, the response.”
Sophie is a former healthcare professional who worked in nursing homes before getting into the grocery biz.
When provincial authorities started calling for social distancing, Close to Home was quick to respond with measures that included limited the number of people in the store at any given time, and encouraging customers to maintain space between each other.
A handful of customers didn’t like it, and weren’t shy about expressing themselves.
But after Tim posted about the problem on Facebook and asked for help, the issue was resolved.
“The first two weeks were difficult, but now that people have realized this is our way of life for a while, when you remind them they’ll say, ‘Oh sorry! I forgot!” Tim said. “People are much more cognizant of it now, and for the most part people are taking it much more seriously, trying to be polite and observant and police themselves.”
The toughest move Tim and Sophie had to make was putting a ‘no children’ rule in place.
Normally, youngsters are a welcome presence in Close to Home, coming in for candy bags, slushies, ice cream and other treats.
“Kids are our lifeblood, but we’re too small a store and they were coming in three or four at a time with no parents to supervise them,” Tim explained. “We want kids here, especially when this is all over, but we had to make a very tough decision and some people weren’t very happy with it.
“So again we went back to the community and asked them, ‘What do we do here?’ We got nothing but overwhelming support and people telling us it was the right thing to do.”
While the kids wouldn’t come into the store, Tim and Sophie brought back their popular Easter colouring contest. Past years have seen around 30 or 40 entries. This year, they dropped the ‘contest’ part, and encouraged kids to bring a coloured page and exchange it for a bag of candy.
“We received about 80 in the first two days alone,” Tim said. “The kids were thrilled and that makes us feel good.”
On Sunday, the Easter Bunny was on the premises and kids were treated to free ice cream.
“Some of the stuff we’re doing is just us trying to give back to the community because the message that we’re all in this together is 100 per cent true,” Tim said.
Tim and Sophie’s days currently start early and end with an exhausted flop into bed around 8 at night.
A few hours sleep and back at it again the next day.
They would have been overwhelmed by now if not for the help of six employees – Gloria Harford, Madeline Morris, Bruce Marshall, Leo Vergara, Anthony Benson and Phoenix Parisien.
“We have four part-timers who are still coming in and two full-timers, and they’re risking themselves and I’d like to thank them,” Tim said. “One of them is our baker. She’s 65 years old and she’s still coming in six days a week.
“I think they should be recognized, and their families should be recognized too.
“Between the community and my employees, that’s the real story. They’ve been awesome. Thank you so much for all the kind words online and in person, because without that, it would have been too much for us.