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Rebuilding Community in Pandemic Times

I started my second year of college off right. I was in a band, making friends and was coming out of my shell that had previously held me back. My confidence was growing exponentially and I had just gotten into a new relationship. Everything, for once, felt all in line. Until it wasn’t.

First, the band broke up, dramatically, leaving both myself and my boyfriend scratching our heads wondering what went wrong. But we pushed forwards, prepared to rebuild. Then the pandemic hit and the exact opposite of rebuilding occurred. Our circles of friends crumbled and suddenly it was just the two of us, isolated as we headed into the darkest winter of our lives.

To say it was all bad would be untrue, but it was tough. We did grow closer and were able to support one another as anxieties and frustrations ran high. But there was only so much we could do for each other. The importance of friends and community was becoming clear and the lack of was taking its toll.

Emerging from the winter, we had plans to record some music together and get our feet back on the ground. One brisk day I popped into a store to see if they would be interested in buying some of my old concert tees. The pandemic had left me between jobs and I was trying to regenerate some funds.

I did sell some shirts that day, but I also met someone who would become an integral part of rebuilding our community, promoting our music and becoming a dear friend to us both.

Over the weeks that followed, this little vinyl shop became a place of comfort. Sometimes we’d buy tea, some days we’d pump the meter full of change just to go stand in the colourful shop and chat with the owner. We kept going until the shop closed down and we feared the worst but after a little bit of Facebook investigating we found, with much relief, that he had switched locations.

Back on track, we continued to visit often, while also recording music at home. Right from the beginning, he provided us with huge amounts of support and encouragement. That summer we busked in front of his store as we were becoming more confident musicians.

As the summer wrapped up and we found ourselves back inside, chatting over warm mugs of tea, getting to know both the owner of the shop and the kind man that sold coffee and tea for him. That was two new friends for us along with a safe space that kind of felt like college, the library and a music store all in one.

While the store became more popular, more people would trickle in off the streets and soon we found ourselves conversing in groups of people around glass tables. We met other musicians and songwriters, aspiring drummers and kind supporters of art. The one common ground that united us was that we all were seeking community, and before our eyes, one was starting to form.

Soon after, as the fall chill crept in, a new idea was brought forth. The shop owner wanted to put on an indoor market for art vendors and buskers to play at. We already had a location, the building his shop was in had a large empty space on the main floor. It was filthy and would take a lot of work before the market could happen, but we pressed on. Suddenly we not only had a spot to hang out but a purpose and a project we could put our efforts into. Afternoons that would typically be spent on the couch were now filled with cleaning, drywalling and painting.

Without community, this would have never come together as well as it did. Our little group put in hours of work for no reason other than we wanted to help, and seeing it all come together was more rewarding than we ever could have imagined. We built stronger relationships and renewed our feelings of happiness.

When the market did go on, we were joined by buskers and musicians of all ages and styles of music. It was refreshing to sit back and watch a collective of unique artists put their souls on display for short sets. The support was overwhelming. We would throw tips for one another and cheer and clap even when it was just us in the building. My boyfriend and I performed our best live set yet. We stepped away feeling accomplished and blessed to have played alongside other talented, kind humans.

Nestled down in the basement of the Imperial Block center is a tiny vinyl shop. It’s filled to the brim with records, band tees and handmade goods. If you pop by, the owner will greet you and help you find what you’re looking for. If you seek conversation, he’ll sit down and tell stories from times filled with music and adventure.

For me, sitting down there, with a warm mug of tea in hand, surrounded by all forms of music, I feel warm and welcome. I feel safe nestled between my boyfriend and stacks of CDs. The owner is kind, full of knowledge and creativity. This place, found on a whim had become a blessing. A place full of friends, growth and community.

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