“Surely this can’t be our reality.”
I, like most of us, couldn’t shake this thought. In March of last year, as the realities of a full-on pandemic were beginning to weigh down our communities, Citizen Supply - our team, our makers, our brands, and our community - was thrust into the uncertainty that such an experience creates. As travel began to cease and states began to impose lockdown restrictions, we had to make the difficult decision to close our doors with no idea what would happen next. We would be closed from March 16th to May 22nd of 2020 - two full months without welcoming a single person into our store.
After a year of living in what seems like an alternate reality, and with plenty of obstacles still to face, it seems almost silly to reflect on two months of closure. But Citizen Supply has always been a physical experience. We built this place under the implied expectation that our community would have the opportunity to connect in person. To see the makers working in their shops - to smell the candles and feel the home goods. To hear the cocktails shaking and see our community gathered around our bar. To leaf through the books and hand-printed cards and get a feel for how much care and thought our team put into creating an experience that was more than transactional. Before March 2020, we welcomed more than 15,000 people a month into our store. For those two months, we didn’t see a soul. Everything came to a complete halt. It was almost enough to break us.
But it didn’t.
From the beginning, it was our goal first and foremost to care for our team the best could given the ever changing circumstances. We committed ourselves to doing everything we could do for them while we desperately tried to figure out how to navigate the storm ahead. As we dug further into our situation, we rediscovered what we had always known. Our team is the most passionate, dedicated group you could ask for - and we were going to make it work.
If there is one thing that Citizen Supply has shown us over the years it’s that people are resilient. We hedged our bets on this uncertain future and began to look for ways in which we could begin to rebuild. We started to get comfortable with the reality that there was no “around” this, only through.
Like many retail organizations, we shifted overnight to online sales. Despite the situation we found ourselves in, it was still a priority for us to make sure our community had access to well-crafted, sustainably created products. We also wanted to do everything in our power to make sure that our vendor community continued to thrive during a season of incredible uncertainty. We worked long hours to move everything online, as well as to fill and ship orders and ensure that our curbside pickups were safe and convenient. As guidelines began to coalesce around in-person shopping, we reconfigured our store so that we could offer a safe experience when our doors could finally open again.
I don’t want to make it seem like we had one revelatory moment that made everything ok. We struggled, and fell down, and got back up again, and struggled, and fell down. We struggled our way through the reopening process, shifting and adjusting with the information we had access to. We frequently had to pivot, as realities were constantly changing. Looking back now, there are things that I would change if I had the chance to do them over, but at the time we were all doing the best we could with what we had. Still, there was a heaviness that we felt every day. It took a monumental effort - day in and day out - not to be overwhelmed.
After months of uncertainty, we finally felt like we had to make the difficult decision to furlough the staff of Likewise, our in-store bar. We cleared out our lounge, not knowing when or if we’d ever be able to gather in that way again. But as we looked at that empty space in our store, a funny thing happened. We began to understand that the way through for Citizen Supply was to reconnect with the thing that had made us in the first place. By leaning into our roots, we could create a new path forward. We made an effort to shift our mindset from “look what has done to us” to “let’s see what this can do for us.”
We figured the best way to lean into our roots was to re-launch the pop-up that got us here in the first place. We called it In Good Company, and it represented for us a chance to give a new set of makers a space in which they could begin to build a name for themselves.
We re-launched In Good Company in the space that had formerly held the Likewise lounge. It hurt to have to let go of that piece of us that we loved, but it filled us with hope to see a new wave of brands and makers getting a chance to introduce themselves to our community. The same chance we’d been given when we opened our doors for the first time.
Citizen Supply seeks to be a sustainability partner for the brands that we serve by using our platform to bring them awareness and revenue. In that way, we provide opportunities - for our vendors, for our makers, for our team, and for the shops, restaurants, and bars around us. For a time last year, we didn’t know if we would be able to continue doing what we do. We didn’t know what it would mean for us, or for those that depend on us. We felt the wind taken out of our sails.
In March of 2020, Citizen Supply was brought down to its foundation. So we figured we’d do a little rebuilding while we were down there. What we have learned since then has shaped us in ways that we would have never been brave enough to undertake without this experience.
A crisis shows us who we are. We’re all works in progress and while there’s still a long way to go, we’ve discovered that it’s the journey that we’ll remember, especially when we’re taking it together.
To those who have supported us throughout this experience, thank you. Before this, we thought we knew the power of community. It turns out we had barely scratched the surface. Citizen Supply exists because of you, and we will continue to give the very best of ourselves to this community, as it has given its very best to us.