OTHER VOICES: We may never be able to reopen our North Van guitar store

COVID-19 has changed life's trajectory for the owners of Bluedog Guitars

We had a thriving retail bricks and mortar guitar store in North Vancouver – Bluedog Guitars – until just a few months ago.

As my husband Paul is immunocompromised (Sixty five years old: check. Recovering from a devastating battle last year with meningitis and complications like pulmonary emboli: check. Currently being treated for skin cancer: check.) COVID-19 threw us into a lifestyle change that we had been craving for our future – but were not quite ready for. 

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As we have family living near Wuhan and in Singapore, we perhaps had more of a heads-up of what was heading our way – and how we needed to take it seriously – and how to prepare ourselves right down to a bucket of bleach water outside our front door for cleaning everything from our groceries to our shoes. We closed our shop to the public in early March – a few weeks before the official shutdown – and focused our marketing on online sales, thinking that would tide us over. 

Our first week after closing the shop was perhaps the busiest we've ever had: who knew people were stocking up on guitars the way they were food and toilet paper! We shipped guitars to Europe, all over the United States, and across Canada, as well as meeting locals at our shop door with a strict protocol to ring the bell then stand far back as we delivered their new guitar to the parking lot outside our shop door, wearing what was at that time a shocking attire of face mask and gloves. 

Paul Haggis plays at an open mic session at Bluedog Guitars in 2018. file photo Cindy Goodman, North Shore News

After that week, we were confident we could financially weather this pandemic, though concerned we couldn't keep up with the pace! And then ... crickets. We haven't sold a guitar since that crazy week. Oh, we've had many enquiries, but from people saying they need to play their potential new guitar first – which we cannot do, in order to stay safe in our two-person bubble.

By March, I was panicking. Our first priority was to stay safe. But how do you stay safe when you have no income? I looked to reduce our costs and boldly decided this was the best time to purchase a home on Vancouver Island with our small savings – this, our retirement dream but intended for a few years down the road. We would move the shop, too, continuing as online only, and wait out the pandemic. 

We put an offer on a house on the Island, sought a mortgage, but lost the house as our bid was too low. That was, however, one of the best things we could have done as unbeknownst to us at that time, it locked the mortgage rate in at a historically low rate: -0.6% plus prime. We found another house we liked even more on the Island, sealed the deal in early April at the crazy interest rate of 1.85 per cent, and moved in May 1 – saving us the higher rent we were paying for our North Vancouver townhouse alongside our shop rent (which we are still trying to sub-let – hit me up if you are looking for a very unique retail/warehouse/industrial/brewery space in the Lynnwood Marina!).

Paul Haggis and Jenn Ladd in their guitar shop in 2012. file photo North Shore News

A large portion of our business is consignment guitars but as we were leaving Metro Vancouver to an unknown future, we decided it would be best to return the used guitars to their owners. This took our inventory down from over 140 guitars to just 38 instruments. Another blow to our income-generating abilities.

We are definitely living "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times" now. We own our own home – except we have a mortgage to pay, thankfully more reasonable than our previous rent. We have an actual yard we can garden in, and can self-distance so much better than we could before – except we do need to purchase groceries and to pay the bills. We have a studio in our home with dozens of stunning high-end guitars – except we have no customers. 

But we continue to be healthy (meaning, no COVID-19), but in a mid-Island community that doesn't seem as afraid of the virus as it should be. We stand out once again for our face masks and gloves, and will continue to do so – possibly for years, if required. Because we will always choose to be alive and hungry.

It is, at best, a songwriter's journey and we will get some great songs from this one, I am sure. Plus, the dogs love our new, quiet life.

For 10 years Jenn Ladd and Paul Haggis have been the proprietors of Bluedog Guitars, a business that developed an international reputation shipping locally handmade guitars around the world from their North Vancouver location. Read our August 2016 feature story on Bluedog by clicking here.

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