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First Person: Small Business Owner Urve Voitk-Manuel

August 10 2020
City: 
Rocky Harbour, Newfoundland

Urve Voitk-Manuel has a greater claim to fame than just being one of the few Estonians in Newfoundland. She is also a talented artist and entrepreneur lucky enough to live in one of the most beautiful places in Canada. EFC reached out to Urve to find out how she is faring and adapting as the Covid-created "Atlantic Bubble" keeps her safe but limits tourism in her area. Here's her fascinating story.

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My name is Urve Manuel and I own and operate a small art gallery, The Glass Station, where I display and sell my own glass work as well as that of other artists and crafts-persons across Newfoundland. The Glass Station is located in Rocky Harbour NL, heart of Gros Morne National Park.

This is my 6th year in business here, and it has been challenging to say the least. Initially, I had decided not to open at all due to the uncertainties surrounding the Covid pandemic. However, as it became clear that our island would be open to local traffic only, added to the fact that we had not had any new cases of the virus, our community decided to tentatively open its doors to travellers. From a season that starts slowly in May, and ends just as quietly more or less in the middle of September, our time to make hay in this very tourism-based economy has been shortened to about six weeks.

Along with the much shortened season, all retail business owners have had to make adjustments in terms of interior layout, barriers by cash registers, amount of people allowed into the building at one time, and so on, to try to keep everyone safe from any potential transmission should there be a carrier amongst us who has not shown any effects of the virus themselves. Classes and workshops have been canceled for this year, and other small businesses that I usually partner with to provide experiences for their clients have had to cancel their tours and bookings with me as well. I now have 3 employees—not because it is so busy, but because the students who are receiving government grants due to the pandemic are only permtted to work a limited amount of hours before they lose their grant monies. This means there is a lot more bookwork for me, and balancing work schedules to suit us all is definitely a challenge (and not my forte at all).

Besides the Gallery, I have just started a small café, Squid Row Cafe. Obviously, it's not the best year to start anything, it seems. As a result of the Covid changes, I can’t offer indoor seating… so I built a small patio in front of the building. My original plan was to have a huge deck out back finished for this purpose, but with the curtailed season it just doesn’t make sense at this time, so I adapted and it seems to work just fine for now. On the other hand, despite these challenges and because things are so much slower than usual, I have had the luxury of easing into the café-life, and have had the time to make adjustments, see how things might work better in the future, and see what further changes I may be able to make and keep in mind for better times. I have a lot of hope for the future, as always, and still look forward to more challenges ahead.

By juggling the café, my studio work, and the gallery, as well as a few other projects, I feel very hopeful that the combination of all these ventures will result in a solid foundation for years to come. I have my work cut out for me for sure, and am very grateful for it.

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