red line  THE AMPERSAND  red line

Bringing people together in a more personal, authentic way
than an ‘and’ could ever do.

Coming Together While Staying Apart

March 18, 2020

Dear Friends & Colleagues,


Having just returned from the US, where I celebrated my 50th birthday with amazing friends and family, I’m now on Day Three of my 14 day self-isolation.  I’ll confess that spending four days at the serene Bandon Dunes golf resort on the remote Oregon coast as the world was crumbling around us felt like it must feel to be a goldfish in a fish bowl in a room in a house that’s on fire. We’ve returned, feeling healthy, but unquestionably rattled by the events around us.


In thinking about what to write, for I felt an urge to communicate with you outside our normal Ampersand cadence, knowing full-well you are presently bombarded with communiques, a great lyric from an old Barenaked Ladies song, Brian Wilson, sprang to mind:


So I’m lying here
Just staring at the ceiling tiles
And I’m thinking about, oh what to think about


Like you, we’ve received dozens of emails pointing us to various critically important resources. This note is not that. By now, we should all have accepted the seriousness of what’s before us (except, it seems, for one particularly stable genius down south, a naked emperor save for the MAGA hat) and we should all be acutely aware of the critical importance of hand-washing, social distancing and other imperatives that we as citizens of a community, are duty-bound to follow.


No, this note is simply an acknowledgement of the fear and apprehension we’re all feeling.  For a firm with the tagline We Know People it needs to be said that we know people are hurting, are scared, are frustrated.


But leave it to us to take a slightly different take on social distancing.  It is ironic that the very behavioural imperatives that will save us, are necessarily ones that keep us apart.  How do we come together as a community while distancing from each other?  Beyond the obvious and tragic human toll this will take on us and those we love, a toll that dwarfs all other considerations, there is going to be a reckoning this city simply can’t afford once the crisis abates. Though it seems trite to consider it today, the notion of “community coalescing” has to begin to take root with the same urgency as “social distancing.”  For once the curve flattens, a steep ascent of a different sort will begin.


Small businesses, like ours and so many others, be they our suppliers like Murrieta’s where we eat or The Cellar where we drink or Bliss where we buy our congratulatory cupcakes or Twigs where we get our flowers; or our competitors at other firms, or front line staff all over town in other industries and professions, we simply – none of us – can afford to fail because of one global pandemic.  We’ve all worked way too hard for way too long to see everything we’ve worked our lives to build disappear overnight.


And on a day where The Royal Bank of Canada made it impossibly hard for us to access a Line of Credit (despite 11 years of debt-free operations…or maybe because of?), others stepped up and said “What can we do to help?”  Like, for example, the Calgary Chamber of Commerce who, completely of their own volition, reached out and asked that very question.  Or like Shaw, another of our suppliers, who opened up their WiFi to everyone, customer or not, recognizing the importance of staying connected with no data caps on their internet plans so whether working from home or connecting with loved ones, you can do so without restrictions. We need more Shaw; less RBC.


And that’s the rub. In a time of isolation and distancing, critical to our (writ large) survival, we must empathetically and emphatically come together in fellowship and compassion.  How do we hug without touching? Embrace without feeling?  Support without spreading?


While our personal hygiene demands thorough hand-washing and avoiding face touching, our corporate hygiene requires us to examine those obscure force majeure clauses in our contracts; to seek rent relief from our landlords; to insist our government step up and waive taxes, provide grants, all while contemplating the unthinkable to ensure we survive.  As with refraining from touching our face, this will be difficult.  We are not a handout culture here in Calgary.  As I wrote in my note to our landlord earlier today seeking some immediate rent relief as we gird for the storm ahead:


“Rental rates do not discriminate. They remain fixed and constant in good times and bad.  We are a firm that believes in making its own luck. We’ve never asked for a handout. We’ve never sought a government grant. We’ve always paid our taxes, treated our staff well and given generously to our community.  We are debt-free, and have been since the day we opened our doors. We run a very tight and responsible business. Asking for help is antithetical to our prairie ethic of hard work and self-sufficiency. But here we are.”


Yes, you can use that.


Long after we’ve won the battle against COVID-19, and long after our dry knuckles no longer ache and crack, there will be a war to win in the quest for normalcy and a return to community.  Now more than ever, we must support local, buy local and help each other out – even from a safe distance for a short time. We are absolutely open for business, fully connected, working remotely, Zooming, Skyping, FaceTiming, texting and emailing our way through this. We remain as optimistic and hopeful as ever about the long term, scared sh*tless though we may be about what lies directly ahead. And we need you more than ever, too. It takes a village and a village we are, separated physically though we may be, bound and connected by values and virtues and old fashioned pluck. Don’t say that ten times quickly.



As life around us shrinks, isolates, slows and cancels, we have to keep placing one foot in front of the other and moving forward. As so eloquently noted by The Ace Class:


conversations will not be cancelled
relationships will not be cancelled
love will not be cancelled
songs will not be cancelled
reading will not be cancelled
self-care will not be cancelled
hope will not be cancelled
may we lean into the good stuff that remains.







p.s. We’ll forego our April 1 Ampersand, focusing instead on the road ahead and hopefully, by May 1, returning with the worst behind us and the best ahead. Be safe friends.