Small Business Survival of a Pandemic

Hi friends. Wow, it's been seven months since Shelter in Place began, millions of people infected with COVID around the world, more than 200,000 have lost lives in the US, systemic racism has taken too many lives and impacted the soul of our planet, we've been ravaged once again by fires here in Northern California, and we are in a race for the most basic protections of humanity in this year's election. It goes without saying, #vote!

As a small business, it's been a lot to take in.

Enjoy Mill Valley, our local Chamber of Commerce, asked us how we're doing. They wanted to know some answers to a few prompts and in our reflection, we realized we're doing a lot, and doing a lot right in order to survive the changes. And there's a few key areas we have identified as opportunities that we haven't had a chance to activate yet, but really need to embrace, like more video– like this walk through so you can experience our curation in as personal a way as we present it in our brick and mortar shop in Downtown Mill Valley.

Our approach these past 7 months: We have made it a priority to stay radically cautious and radically optimistic. Our emphasis has been on gathering our internal resources to remain energized and focused, to create a safe space, to strengthen and amplify our business, and continue to connect deeply with a creative community of artists, designers and appreciators.

Asking for support for local businesses like ours, who play an important role in building a creative culture and community, is critical, not only to us, but to the creative placemaking we all contribute to in Downtown Mill Valley and the greater San Francisco Bay Area. Not to mention, our success impacts the success of the more than 45 artists and designers we have curated, 65% of which are from around the Bay Area–Marin, the South Bay, East Bay and San Francisco. 

Specifically, with the core pillars we have identified for Poet and/the Bench, we are pushing ourselves to:

1. Inspire people and create a strong sense of place: We launched our ecommerce [finally! after working on it for 2 years] to provide you with another channel to access our edit and to expand our reach nationally. In addition, as our artists have gained access again to their studios and have had the resources to make, we've been adding new art and objects to our collections. You can help us by sharing our website and Instagram with friends! 

2. Value the human-ness and share the narrative behind the artists and objects we carry: A key tenant of our philosophy is to connect people to our artists' and designers' objects through story–their inspiration, background, experience, cultural and world views, etc. It is a more examined way of collecting objects of appreciation. We have been writing blog posts, social media posts and sharing the stories of our artists and designers in the shop and online to keep the energy high and positive about our curation. We enjoyed being interviewed by Lizelle Green on the Mill Valley Art Commission about the latest work that arrived from sculpture artist Austyn Taylor. As we mentioned earlier, stay tuned for more video to come!

3. Advocate for community: 

  • We helped launch Raise the Frequency, an organization with a focus on supporting the inclusion and advancement of people of color through experiences that allow knowledge, understanding and celebration to co-exist; we have a lending library of books on anti-racism in our shop, and we get involved in local issues.
  • In this same effort of inclusion, in addition to the other BIPOC artists we carry, we have launched four new artists over the past few months representing additional diversity of black and brown voices in our curation:
    1. Cute Coffee is freshly roasted direct sourced farm to cup coffee beans by two black female founders in Oakland (new roasts just arrived and will be added to our site ASAP, but in the meantime, visit us in Mill Valley for whole bean bags)
    2. DJ Pelau is a Brooklyn-based DJ originally from Trinidad and our music mixtape collaborator. Our first mixtape is Home / Day a free gift of good vibes [without any commercial intent] to take you from sunrise to sunset
    3. Cru Chocolate (in shop now! and coming online shortly) is a single origin cacao bar and drinking chocolates brand with origins in founder Karla McNeil-Rueda's birth place of Honduras, and using 4,000 year old Mayan techniques for the smoothest non-dairy rich chocolate!
    4. Roam Vintage's In House jewelry collection by curator and designer Natasha Garrett is inspired by vintage jewelry of the 70's and named after the central characters in her favorite movie, Black Orpheus, a 1959 Brazilian interpretation of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Natasha is the daughter of Kress Jack who we founded Raise the Frequency with, and the granddaughter of Jean Jack, the Maine-based painter we carry.

4. Do what we love to bring things that you'll love for self and others: 

  • We keep pushing the artistic discovery... More new keeps arriving from our current artists and in early November we are excited to present a stunning photography exhibit that celebrates the forests–the timing couldn't be more strange with the devastating fires that have ravaged our neighboring communities and coincidentally in concert with the launch of author Obi Kaufmann's latest book The Forests of California, that we carry in the shop. This exhibit is a hauntingly beautiful exploration of layers and freedom–join our mailing list to be notified of the exhibit opening. 
  • We launched our Ethical Pantry to share high quality, beautifully crafted essentials including Amphora Nueva ultra premium extra virgin olive oils and vinegars, Cute Coffee and Cru Chocolate both as mentioned above, our own Poet and/the Bench Tea, luxurious and organic, and the upcoming addition of Spice Tribe (direct source, single origin spices and gourmet blends of spices, herbs and seasonings).
  • As a free streaming, non-commercial gift of good vibes– bringing you his soulful grooves, to transport you to moments that allow you to sink in, escape and connect– we have released our first music series, beginning with Home/Day, a mixtape that brings you good vibes from sunrise to sunset (the Home/Night version is coming in November). 
  • We are furthering the artistic endeavors of our curation of artists, some of whom have made pivots over the pandemic to explore and build upon their artistic interests (Eg Whitney Sharpe with larger scale installation pieces) and others who have pushed themselves deeper into creative expression (Eg Laura Roebuck and the upcoming launch of her new catalog which we will be celebrating, soon, to be announced, and the just hung at Poet and/the Bench newest large abstract painting It Ended with A Moth). 

It's important and true that we just love what we do– the discovery, the narrative, and the relationships we continue to build both with our artists and the community of supporters that appreciate and collect them.

We are truly optimistic about the holiday season this year so we can recoup from the devastating losses we have faced– and we remain energized about the future.

We look forward to safely welcoming all into our shop. 

Design is not just what we do. It's also, who we are. 

~ Bonnie & Jeffrey

 Poet and the Bench Design Philosophy