Even before the COVID-19 pandemic began, I wondered how to get the word out about our local businesses. As a Black Diamond Councillor and a member of the recently formed Inter-municipal Economic Development Committee (IEDC), the growth and sustainability of our businesses is top of mind. The IEDC commissioned a report on the state of our business community and the main point that emerged was locals don’t know of all our wonderful companies. I figured with my writing background, I could easily feature a business every few weeks and help spread the word that way. Then the pandemic began. Now it is even more important we support our own, so here goes. To try to keep me impartial, each business I feature gets to pick the next one. I hope you enjoy learning about our community businesses and how they are coping.
There is something special about Black Diamond’s main street. To imagine it without even one of the shops is a painful exercise, but to think of it without Bluerock Gallery is not possible. The gallery has been a fixture of the downtown, in all its iterations, for decades.
“I’ve asked myself that over and over. Mainstreet now looks great, many beautiful, different stores – destination stores, it would be quite a tragedy to lose anyone,” said Tarek Nemr.
“I can’t imagine what main street would look like without Bluerock,” agreed Shelly Faulkner. “Not just for my own sake, because it’s mine and Tarek’s, both of us really believe in Black Diamond and want to see it thrive. I love Black Diamond; I think it’s a wonderful place.”
Tarek and Shelly are the co-owners of Bluerock Gallery, and in Shelly’s mind not so much owners but caretakers.
“It’s not ownership but stewardship,” she said. “We’ve inherited this amazing thing; people love the gallery.”
It’s comforting to know that neither are alone in steering the ship that is Bluerock Gallery, they can lean on one another for support and that leaning has never been more important.
“He’s the guy at the helm,” explained Shelly, of her business partner. “He’s so business minded and clear headed, I’m just so impressed by him. He is more comfortable being the face of the business. I feel really lucky for both our sakes, we have our roles and it seems to be working.”
If Tarek is the face of the gallery, Shelly is at home in the details and accoutrements. Happiest behind the scenes, she revels in quiet pages and the tactile elements that make up the shop.
“I look after the books – it’s something I have always loved. I take care of the shop, books, cards, textiles and jewellery,” she said.
The pair have been business partners for only a year. Their new roles as owners and caretakers were becoming comfortable and the business was humming along, boasting one of its best years in 2019. Then the pandemic hit.
“It came so quickly, it happened so quickly,” explained Nemr. One day he was placing orders and seemingly the next was locking his doors, in accordance with government regulations.
“On Saturday we opened, on Sunday we heard there were more cases. Monday it was busy but no more than 10 people at a time,” said Nemr. “At the start of pandemic on Monday, the 16th of March I made three orders. On Tuesday I had to cancel orders. It was a state of emergency and all galleries closed,” he explained.
“I’m so thankful to be in such an amazing town.”
Coming from Syria, Tarek is no stranger to government orders and social upheaval.
“Back home we had a thing that all stores close. The supermarkets closed,” he said.
“The state of panic and emergency is not strange but my past experience prepared me for this because after all the government and people are working together for this,” Tarek said of the Canadian response.
“I’m so thankful to be in such an amazing town,” he said of the local attitude to the government health measures. “I’m really impressed.”
With the doors locked and no customers to marvel in person at their collection, the owners of Bluerock Gallery cooked up a once in, it has never happened sale. Without asking any of their artists to make up the difference, Tarek and Shelly put on a 25 per cent off everything sale over the Easter weekend.
“The sale was amazing – it exceeded my expectations,” marvelled Tarek. “Thank you so much for the support.”
“We were run off our feet, and it was entirely a good thing,” agreed Shelly.
Having closed the shop on the 17th of March and with few online sales coming in, the sale (which was totally online, save for pickup) was just the ticket to not only get a much needed influx of sales but to remind people what kind of place they are missing.
“From March to the 10th of April we had very little amount of sales,” explained Tarek. “Some of our artists depend on sales from galleries to make a living and we are trying not to ask for government assistance.”
Now, with the success of the sale behind them, Tarek and Shelly have not been slacking. Being so dependent on online sales, the pair are committed to posting on Instagram and Facebook each day. As for upcoming plans, Tarek remained secretive.
“I certainly have some plans,” he teased. “The next event is Mother’s Day.”
Even without the bell on the front door to Bluerock Gallery heralding the entrance of customers to greet and delight, the gallery owners are far from bored. They are tidying up and readying for when the restrictions are lifted and they can welcome people into the shop once more.
“As you can imagine we have a lot of holes in the walls,” said Tarek. “We are painting the walls at the gallery. Now is a great time to do so.”
While neither will argue, the world is a strange place right now they are committed to what was entrusted to them – the gallery and are planning to come out the other side of the pandemic ready to reopen.
“There is some element of having to face a challenge. We’re in the middle of it and all you can do is try your best,” said Shelly. “I try to be philosophical about things, the previous owners dealt with a flood year. My hope is we can resume operations as they were before. It’s a totally different place without people in there.”