Summer at Home
Planting, painting, and supporting local businesses during the pandemic
Life outside our homes—from work, school, and recreation to dating, dining, and shopping—has changed obviously and significantly over the past five months. So, too, has the way we live inside our houses and in the outdoor spaces we call our own. Most notably, we’ve repurposed rooms and corners for work and exercise and maximized outdoor living areas to support social distancing.
According to the home design site Houzz, fitness equipment sales are eight times what they were pre-pandemic, and Overstock.com reports a 270 percent increase in home office furniture sales, a 225 percent increase in patio furniture sales, and a staggering 360 percent increase in the sales of pool and gardening items. Our DIY efforts and pandemic nesting purchases aren’t just improving our spaces. They are keeping our neighbors in business.
Aubuchon Hardware in Augusta
“I can’t keep seeds on the shelves,” says Dennis Gaworski, manager of Aubuchon Hardware in Augusta. “I was so busy in May and June because the big box stores were closed or had long lines.” With stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot now open, Dennis says traffic has slowed a bit, but his sales are still steady. In fact, while his revenue was down for the year in February, the Augusta store was significantly over last year’s earnings in May and June. “We’ve seen a lot of new customers,” Dennis says. He hopes to retain many of them, especially those who tell him the sales associates at big box chains aren’t as helpful or knowledgeable as his staff. For now, Dennis is just trying to keep his shelves stocked with high-demand items for gardens, pools, and patios, which isn’t easy.
Ace Hardware in Falmouth
Kathryn Dobrowolski, co-owner of Falmouth Ace Hardware, is having a similar experience. “Things people want, we can’t get,” she says. Between the pandemic and new tariffs on foreign goods, supply chains have become unreliable and delayed. Kathryn experienced a surge in sales when her store was deemed essential at the beginning of the pandemic, but with most stores now open, business has settled to where it normally is for this time of year. Like Dennis, she’s seeing a big spike in gardening sales, as well as interior paint sales.
“Lots of people started gardens this year,” she says, “and they’re sprucing up their homes.” She and her staff are “carrying on as best we can,” despite staffing issues, restocking challenges, and customers not wanting to wear masks in the store. “Most people are really great and understanding,” she says. One surprise item Kathryn can’t get ahold of: Mason jars. “A lot of the restaurants are doing to-go cocktails in them,” she explains. Great for takeout, not so great for folks hoping to make strawberry jam.
Darby Jones in Portland
At Portland’s Darby Jones, a small shop that describes its merchandise as “desirable nonessentials,” owner Laura Chambers worried her tagline was “a scarlet letter slapped across our windows,” as officials were encouraging people to stock up on essential items in March. “After all, we didn’t offer bathroom tissue or canned goods,” Laura says. She closed her store to the public on March 15 and spent the next few days photographing her inventory, loading up her website for online shopping, and sourcing new items she believed would be relevant in the months ahead.
After her initial panic, Laura quickly realized desirable nonessentials were, indeed, essential. The celebrations of holidays, birthdays, graduations, new homes, and births were not on pause. She went from welcoming the community into her shop to communicating digitally and “relishing a sporadic knock and wave through the window.” Many of her high demand items became increasingly sought after, along with the new products she had carefully chosen to invest in. Some of the most common purchases became face coverings, scented candles, fun socks, greeting cards, cocktail infusion kits, and jewelry.
To support the stay-at-home order, Kathryn offered curbside pickup and shipping across the country, but then she went further, providing free local delivery within a 15-mile radius of her shop. “Truthfully, we delivered beyond that perimeter,” she says. “We wanted our customers to stay safe at home, and we were so grateful for every order, that the distance was irrelevant.” Kathryn and her staff clocked well over 1,000 miles delivering orders. The support from customers was emotionally overwhelming, she says. “[We] felt so much love from an excited wave from a distance. Sometimes I just cried in the car.”
Darby Jones was able to reopen its doors on June 27, and Kathryn continues to feel encouragement from her community and beyond, receiving emails, direct messages (dms), voicemails, and handwritten notes from customers reaching out to convey their best wishes and asking how they can help her shop. “People are so good,” Kathryn says. “We are so very appreciative.”
Outdoor Projects for August
If you’re still looking for a few outdoor projects, try these fun (or at least functional) ideas:
Give your patio furniture a good scrub
For wood and wicker furniture, use a mild oil-base soap like Murphy’s Oil Soap mixed with warm water. Plastic and metal should do fine with dishwashing liquid mixed in a large bucket of warm water. Patio cushions can either be wiped down or thrown in the washing machine (check the tag).
Repaint your front door
A fresh coat or a new pop of color is an easy and affordable way to boost curb appeal. Tape along the edges of the door so paint doesn’t end up on the door frame.
Upcycle forgotten treasures
Create a pallet garden with old wood, make hanging baskets or plant pots by repurposing old home goods (a ceramic teapot without its lid, chipped mugs, rusted watering cans), or create a terrarium planter with a discarded vase or unused fish tank.
Sarah Holman is a writer living in Portland. She is enthusiastic about cheese plates, thrift shop treasures and old houses in need of saving.