By Molly Papows
In the absence of seeing family and friends in person, a lot of the things bringing me comfort right now are familiar: a favorite cafe down the street, a challenging yoga class, a book to lose myself in, a concert after a long day of work. Except now those things all look soberingly different. 
That coffee shop made it possible for me to take a luxurious (and let’s be real, merciful) break from my own cooking on my birthday and safely pick up a prepaid bagel while maintaining social distancing. I started practicing yoga years ago as a supplement to physical therapy, but now I depend on the hour in my day when I can switch off my brain as the familiar voice of a teacher from my studio guides me through a flow from the computer. I can't casually browse for a new book after meeting someone for a drink, but I can still order whatever I'm craving through my local indie bookstore (shout out to the USPS). And while it's a distinct experience from the usual night out at a venue, it's been surprisingly heartwarming to meet my friends on Zoom and stream live music together after dinner. 
Each new adaptation leaves me happy and sad and hopeful and worried—saudade in Portuguese. This isn’t how we were wired to interact, but I’m also wildly grateful for these moments of joy, and I wanted to check in with the folks working hard on the other side of the screen to see how they’re weathering the storm. You’ll hear from some old friends here at Junction and some new ones, too: Deb Shinlinnger, owner of Lucky’s Coffee Garage; Maeghan Finnigan, owner of Bikram Yoga Upper Valley; Allie Levy, owner of Still North Books & Bar; and Ben Cosgrove, a self-employed composer and musician. I owe a huge thank you to each of them for gamely connecting over email and the phone, taking their own quarantine portraits, and speaking with so much candor and grace about their experiences, even as things continue to unfold. 

Deb Shinlinnger, Owner, Lucky’s Coffee Garage

Photo courtesy of Deb Shinlinnger

Molly: Can you share what was going through your mind as a business owner those first few days in March? 
Deb Shinlinnger: In early March I was just trying to stay ahead of the curve. As the impact of the coronavirus in the US started to ramp up, I saw our federal and state governments dragging their feet with decisions that other countries had already implemented. I just knew that I couldn’t count on their timeline to navigate this. Growing increasingly concerned for my staff, we started to implement some changes as early as March 11th. 
All I could think was: who’s the leader here, who is taking charge? I was floundering around, trying to find a way through. We held “family” meetings at Lucky’s to discuss comfort levels and actions. We took everything one day at a time and made collective decisions together so we could all be on the same page as a united front. Those early days were stressful and weird for sure, because we were taking action when many others weren’t. We went with our gut and it paid off. I have no regrets about how we reacted.
Molly: I've really appreciated your transparency as you've adapted in real time to an incredibly fluid situation. How much guidance have you had from the state as you make these decisions? Can you tell us a little more about your move to online ordering, and how that process has felt for your team?
Deb: In the early days of the virus, our main focus was to stay educated and ahead of the decisions mandated by the state, which seemed slow to react. It was horrifying to watch businesses and people not take the virus seriously. Many people were downplaying it. We all decided as a team that we would much prefer to be called ‘reactionaries’ than be sick or unknowingly make others sick. Our timeline and changes happened rapidly after that.
On March 11th, we started by refusing to fill reusable cups. We also removed several tables and seats to increase distance.
On March 12th, we cut our hours to limit our exposure to people, but people still weren’t getting it.
On March 13th, we transitioned to all to-go orders, and encouraged people not to linger. We adjusted our line flow to move in one direction. This felt okay for a couple of days, then even that felt like too much contact, so we liquidated our stocks and closed down completely on March 17th.
Our main purpose for closing was to ensure that we were not silent carriers. We see so many people at Lucky’s every day; none of us have ever experienced symptoms, but we began to fear that we were doing more harm than good.
My husband is a talented builder, so he was able to install sliding walk-up windows fairly easily (amazing!). Transitioning to all online ordering wasn’t easy, however; we had technical issues with the online site and the whole thing was incredibly labor intensive to set up. There was so much planning and a brand new flow to work through. “Lucky’s Change Management Garage” is what it felt like for a bit. It was exhausting, to be honest, but we made it through. Our amazing community of customers pulled us through this time; I’m still amazed at how tirelessly they supported us through all of these changes. So grateful!
We are now open 8 a.m. – 1 p.m., Tuesday to Saturday, taking all orders via an app called Cloosiv, which is set up specifically to serve coffee shops and cafes. We like to think of Lucky’s as a giant food truck now, one with no wheels and a lot of space. The crew is very happy to be back working part time, we truly missed each other! We’ve managed to retain every single member of our crew through all of this. 
One day we will get back to seeing our community face-to-face. We miss the random high fives and funny little conversations that happen around the espresso machine, the jokes with our customers, the connections in real time… We hold tight to the idea that it will be back someday!
Overall, online ordering has been pretty great. It’s enabled Lucky’s to stay afloat and we’re happy that it’s providing a teeny tiny sense of normalcy in people’s lives (and ours). The most unexpected aspect of online ordering is the flow; with a line of people the orders would come in one at time, one after another. Online, many people can order at once, which can feel overwhelming. Sometimes we receive eight to ten orders a minute. It’s been a bit difficult to staff and prep for. We are constantly adjusting our pars (or minimum amount of inventory) so we can keep wait times to a minimum.
I can see our current model working indefinitely, and it feels great to have a plan in place until we all feel safe. We are working on contingency plans for four months, six months, and a year. Our main concern is keeping our staff and you all safe. We’ll pivot and react to whatever comes our way. We always seem to find a way through! For now, we are encouraging people not to linger outside of Lucky’s and would prefer people to wear masks if they approach our windows. 
Molly: A huge part of Lucky's is the sense of community. Are you finding ways to feel connected? 
Deb: Social media has been a godsend during these weird times. It’s helped all of us feel connected to each other and to our customers. As a team, we were posting morning coffee photos while in isolation, our customers were sending them back and flooding us with messages of solidarity. Nothing connects people quicker than sharing a virtual cup of coffee in our jammies, still sporting our bed head. We all look forward to the day that we can greet people with a visible smile, but for now we’ll be here behind the plexiglass excited to see you! Virtual elbow bump, y'all! 
Molly: Okay, now I have to know: how do you take your coffee at home? 
Deb: I make my coffee at home multiple ways, but my current favorite is with an AeroPress. I drink mine with a little cream and sugar depending on the roast and origin.

Maeghan Finnigan, Owner, Bikram Yoga Upper Valley

Photo courtesy of Maeghan Finnigan

Molly: What was that first week of widespread closures like for you?
Maeghan Finnigan: It was really scary and it felt like there… it didn’t feel like there was much hope that we would make it through. Like, that we might close our doors and that might be it. It just seemed like too much trying to figure out livestreaming. Would people do it? How many people would want to quit? There was a lot of uncertainty and a lot of fear. And for so many of us, not just me, we had to learn a whole new way to run our businesses, and I didn’t know that it would work. 
Molly: And online yoga classes have been around for a while, but have always felt distinct from the community experience of a studio. Can you talk a little about how you were able to get up and running online? 
Maeghan: There was a lot of trial and error. We’ve worked through lots of glitches. Maybe not glitches... we’ve worked through lots of things that just didn’t work. And of course that first week we were trying to get up and running… we closed one night and then the very next morning at 6 a.m. we started a livestream, but the whole country was doing the same thing, and so you couldn’t get anyone on the phone, it was really hard to get answers, and everything was really slow. We’ve definitely changed our approach over the weeks, including how we share that information with students. 
Molly: I’m curious how it feels as a teacher on the other side of the screen. Have you had to rethink your approach there? Are you getting feedback from students?
Maeghan: You know, it’s awkward, and none of us got into teaching to teach on a screen. Same thing for all of the educators out there; they didn’t start teaching so they could connect with first graders on Zoom. So yeah, there’s been a huge learning curve. We’ve had feedback and responses, but mostly there’s the fact that people keep showing up, either for the livestream or for the recorded classes. People just keep showing up and engaging. 
We’ll get the livestream up and running fifteen minutes before classes, and people are on there interacting. I think it just fuels us, and it makes it feel like… it’s not the same, it’s definitely not the same, but it makes it feel closer to that sense of community. And students have been really amazing. Starting that first Tuesday at 6 a.m., we couldn’t believe it; I can’t remember the numbers but, you know, like 30, 40 people signing in right away. They just didn’t skip a beat. It’s pretty amazing.
Molly: And there are more distractions at home. Do you have any advice for people trying to get into a new rhythm? 
Maeghan: Oh, yes! It is so hard. At first we thought, oh my gosh, let’s have classes at 7 a.m. instead of 6 a.m., and everyone was like, actually earlier is better because we need to do this before the kids wake up. It’s actually more challenging now. 
I would say some of the best advice I’ve heard is to create a space in a room with a door that you can close, if you can. Because it’s not as easy now to carve out the time, and there are maybe more people around who aren’t doing the same thing that you’re doing, although there have also been many students telling us that their kids are practicing with them now, which is pretty cool. But finding a quiet space, even if it means doing the recorded videos at a time when the house is quiet really early in the morning or later at night. I do tease people in savasana (sanskrit for dead pose) and say, “This is not the time to do another load of laundry, or that pile of papers that I know you can see out of the corner of your eye.” It’s important to take that time.
Molly: Are there any particular postures that might be good for stress relief right now? 
Maeghan: Wide-legged child’s pose for stress, but also because we are sitting more and sitting differently; we’re sitting on the couch with our laptop. And then cobra, or baby cobra, or sphinx; a gentle backward bend, because we are doing so much more rounding forward. And then, because a lot of us are more stressed out, just gently turn your head to the side in savasana so you get that rotation in the neck, which becomes so tense when we’re stressed. Move your head side to side and get that stretch. Savasana is done by lying on your back in stillness in an effort to minimize sensory stimulation and external distractions to help the body completely relax. It’s known as a great way to calm the mind, reduce stress and fatigue, lower blood pressure, relieve headache pain, and improve sleep.
Molly: For me, deeper backbends have felt pretty sticky through all of this, which means I should really be practicing them more, but… ouch. 
Maeghan: Haha, yes! And the thing is, without the heated studio, we now need to practice so much slower. Because things feel really different, and that can be good in a way, too, to get out of some of our habits. 
Molly: My apartment runs cold and I really can feel the difference in my muscles. So I guess the other side of that question is: is there anything we should definitely not be doing at home in order to avoid an injury? 
Maeghan: I think everyone just needs to move more slowly, and a little more carefully, paying closer attention to our breath and our breathing patterns. As you know, our Original Hot Yoga (OHY), Baptiste Power Yoga, and Inferno Hot Pilates (IHP) classes are traditionally done in a heated room: OHY to 105 degrees, Baptiste and IHP to around 95 degrees. We use the heat to allow for a safer stretch. The heat takes the trauma out of the stretching, allows for deeper movement, and there is a detoxifying component to sweating. But you can also build some really incredible heat in other ways. You can take a hot shower just before class, and then if you can practice your ujjayi breathing even in the Bikram practice where we usually just breathe normally, it really does help to build internal heat. Ujjayi breathing is a breathing technique that helps us focus our thoughts and warm our bodies. It's a deep breathing exercise. While slightly contracting your throat, inhale deeply through your nose to fill your lungs, exhale slowly through your nose, throat still slightly contracted. You should be able to hear your breath. But mostly: take everything a little bit slower. Most of us are not going to have the same depth in our practice right now. 
Molly: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Maeghan: I am just beyond inspired by everyone turning up. It definitely keeps us going when we turn up to a dark, empty studio, especially for that 6 a.m. It’s inspiring that people are taking the time, and we’re so grateful for everyone’s support, because we would not make it without them. It drives us: getting to see everyone in Zoom, seeing who’s signing into classes, and noticing that people are signing in to new classes. It keeps us going and it keeps us motivated. 

Allie Levy, Owner, Still North Books & Bar (first interviewed here

Photo courtesy of Allie Levy

Molly: I don't think anyone imagines having to weather a global pandemic within their first three months of business. First of all, how are you doing?
Allie Levy: It depends on the day. Some days are really hard. We're facing all the challenges typical for small businesses in the time of COVID-19—we've recently had complications with our PPP loan, we're seeing incredibly long processing and shipping times for both restocking orders and customer orders that ship from our warehouse, we're trying to figure out how to continue to do business and serve our community as safely as possible, etc. 
But I'm also incredibly grateful and amazed that after only three months of business we have as much of a community looking for ways to support us as we do. Basically, this is just a time of a lot of feelings—good and bad.
Molly: How did those first few days feel? 
Allie: The first few days were a blur of rapidly changing business plans. There was a constant barrage of new information and speculation to process. It felt like each day we, as an entire community, were getting closer to accepting the reality that everyone needed to stay home for a while, but we had to reach that decision through a series of smaller choices. And you can see this in the steps we took at the store, from the cautionary steps we took in early March through the decision to operate entirely online beginning at the end of March.
Molly: How were you able to pivot on the website and online orders so quickly? Is that a direction you'd thought you might head in anyway? 
Allie: I had actually made the decision early on to focus almost entirely on the in-store experience for at least the first six months to a year. But around the time we closed our doors to browsing on March 18, it became obvious that we would need to figure out a solution for online ordering. 
Fortunately, there are a couple of somewhat turnkey e-commerce solutions for bookstores available through the American Booksellers Association, so we were able to make the necessary customizations and build out the site within about a week. Our former lead barista, Kelley, has been leading the website charge, and I'm so thankful to have someone on the team who has the technical experience and patience to work through an entirely new website with me.
Molly: You’ve also gotten involved with some virtual events. Did that feel like a natural next step? 
Allie: Pretty early on, we knew we would want to find ways to continue to connect with our customers beyond simply shipping out books, and events are a really logical way to do this. We waited a couple of weeks to kick off our virtual events to make sure we had the bandwidth and it's still something we're working on growing. 
The first few virtual events have been such an energizing way to stay connected with our community. We hosted a virtual poetry open mic with Literary North. They took a screenshot, and you can see everyone with their serious poetry faces, and there I am grinning because I'm just so happy to feel some energy back in the shop, even if it's filtered through a computer screen.
Molly: I keep thinking about the people who have a book — maybe even their first book — released during this time. What happens in the absence of a book tour?
Allie: Publishers have been frantically shifting release dates, in part to preserve the possibility of in-person events, which can be incredibly important to authors and to the success of a book. For authors whose pub dates have held, we're seeing some events move online. On one hand, this is great for readers who live places that may not be high up on the list for author visits, but it's also much more challenging to coordinate on the part of the author and the bookstore.
Molly: Have you noticed any surprising new patterns in people's reading as they place orders with you? I feel like booksellers must have a unique glimpse into our collective psyche as we cope!
 
Allie:
There's been a couple of main camps of readers. On the one hand, there's those who want to dig deep into the virus with books about the Spanish flu or post-pandemic fiction like Station Eleven, and on the other, there's people looking for light escapism. We're also seeing an increase in the number of orders for more obscure titles — books from years ago that maybe didn't make much of a splash, books I've never heard of — I think because the online shopping experience is significantly less curated than the in-store experience.
There's also a seemingly endless thirst for jigsaw puzzles and cookbooks, which we are doing our best to accommodate!
Molly: What have you been turning to, if you even have time to read these days? My reading has been all over the place, but lately I’ve been craving memoirs. 
Allie: I've been seeking out books that deal head-on with intense emotions. I recently finished an upcoming memoir about group therapy (Group by Christie Tate, out in October). And now I'm finishing up Trust Exercise by Susan Choi, which won the National Book Award last year.
Molly: What are you most looking forward to doing once you're back in the store? 
Allie: This may sound silly, but I really miss making lattes. Happily, we're reintroducing curbside for books, puzzles, coffee, and a limited menu of baked goods on May 12th, so I'll get to live out that dream soon enough. Keep an eye on our social media for details!
Ben Cosgrove, Composer and Multi-instrumentalist (first interviewed here)

Photo courtesy of Ben Cosgrove

Molly: For me, it was a cancelled Josh Ritter concert on Friday, March 13th that kicked off that avalanche of rapid change. How did those first days look and feel for you as a professional musician? 
Ben Cosgrove: I think all of us felt it differently. For me, it had been a slow trickle of a few particularly nervous venues asking to reschedule shows in March and April, just here and there, but then there was one day — maybe like March 12th? — when the real avalanche started. I was at a studio in Maine all day doing session work for another band, and all of our phones were just constantly lighting up with new cancellations or grim news alerts about how this was all suddenly going to be a much bigger deal than we’d realized. It was an extremely weird thing to experience from the controlled isolation of a recording studio! You’re right to characterize it as an avalanche, but I remember that on that day it also felt a bit like what happens right before a tidal wave — just this eerie, quiet sensation of everything suddenly being sucked away and knowing that something awful was going to drop on all of us.
Molly: Tell me about your early forays into livestreaming. I've dropped by enough of your sets over the years to see your performances completely mesmerize a range of venues, from Somerville to rural Vermont to New York City. How has it felt to perform whole concerts without that reciprocal energy in the room? That give-and-take with an audience must be even more important when you’re a solo artist. What's been the biggest challenge, and what's brought you the most joy/satisfaction?
Ben: Thanks for those kind words! I won’t lie, it really has been a struggle to get used to these livestreams. There are so many tiny ways in which I react to an audience while I’m performing — many more than I even realized, it turns out — and I can’t tell you how strange it is to have to give a performance on autopilot, with no audience reactions to respond to and no ability to calibrate my energy to that of the room. I’m used to changing my set on the fly, or telling long stories I hadn’t planned on telling, all based on a million small cues from the crowd that I’ve spent ten years gradually learning how to interpret. Even stuff like knowing how long to pause after each song is hard when you can’t hear how people liked it: do you diffuse an awkwardly silent moment with a joke, or do you wait longer than usual because they’re clapping harder than expected for a new song? Are the songs landing? Are people seeming to flag during the stories and should I tighten them up, or are they laughing and unusually engaged and can I freely go off on some tangent? Or much worse: are the audio/video feeds still working/am I talking loud enough/are people leaving in droves?
The closest experience to something like this that I’ve had before might be playing in a radio station, or maybe even sometimes onstage when the lights are too bright to see the crowd, but it’s really much weirder than either of those things. I’ve compared it to what I imagine it feels like to be an astronaut or a deep sea diver: once you click the button to go live in one of these things, you’re totally on your own, with no way of getting any signal or information from the people you’re performing for until after it’s all over. 
At the same time, I do appreciate that while all these livestream shows are obviously no replacement for actual performances, they do serve a separate and totally distinct function, which seems really important right now. I really, really love that my fans and friends from Nova Scotia and Cincinnati and Oregon and Florida and London can all be in a space together chatting about the same things. And I’ve been really humbled by the outpouring of appreciation that has come my way after each of these shows; it’s been a good reminder that even though broadcasting an hourlong concert from my apartment isn’t necessarily what I became a musician to do, it’s still doing something that’s important to people and it’s maybe even helping them out during this time when everyone needs community, or distraction, or calmness, or stories, or even just a scheduled event to look forward to. For all my complaints about livestreams as a performer, I do genuinely feel very lucky to be able to provide that.
Molly: With touring off the table for the next while, have you had to rethink how and when you'll release new music? What had been in the works? 
Ben: There is a degree to which this timing could’ve been a lot worse for me, since I’d planned to do a lot of work on new recordings this spring and wasn’t quite sure where I was going to find the time to do it. I can’t say much about when all this stuff will come out, or in what form, but hopefully some of it may be available before too long at all.
Another helpful coincidence is that in general, a lot of my new music over the last couple years has been about everyday, vernacular landscapes: I was starting to feel self-conscious about the fact that so much of each show involves me raving about wilderness areas and national parks, and I worried that this might encourage a view of nature and wildness — i.e. that they are pure and separate things apart from the rest of human life, and you have to go someplace explicitly “natural” to experience them — that I don’t actually believe in or want to support at all. So I’ve been focusing on writing music about places where wildness and the built environment kind of elide with each other: overgrown highway underpasses, plants in sidewalk cracks, lawns, gardens, and that kind of thing. I’m looking forward to having opportunities onstage to talk about nature as this thing that people are an active, dynamic part of, and not something exotic that we have to leave our normal lives to go witness or engage with. I think the fetishization of classically beautiful “natural” spaces isn’t a super helpful thing for the world, and I’d like to feel I was helping people appreciate these smaller, less obvious expressions of nature and wildness that show up in their own lives. In a weird and unexpected way, quarantine has helped me force myself to focus on those smaller, everyday, under-your-nose things and work out how best to write music about them.
Molly: Seriously, what a moment to extend that invitation as we all become intimately reacquainted with our own backyards. I think your earlier work also achieves that, in a way. I know "Landfall" came out of an artist residency at sea (the extreme end of that wildness you mention), but it’s always really viscerally reminded me of this one spot along the northbound end of Route 128 in Massachusetts where you can finally smell the ocean; it shifts a little depending on the season or tide or wind, but I’ve spent my whole life rolling down the windows and anticipating the moment my entire body recalibrates in proximity to the Atlantic, and that’s exactly how that song feels (even though I suppose it’s technically the inverse!). 
Ben: Ha, thanks — and sort of! At its core, that’s really a song about homecoming, or finding ballast, or regaining a familiar sense of orientation, so in a way, your association is right on.
Molly: That song is right on! And especially poignant right now. I love that it can hold both my landscape and yours. 
It's too soon to guess at what all of this means for your profession or mine long-term, but I do think people want to know how they can help support the arts right now; we’re all leaning on music or books or the photographs on our walls as we process layers of grief. What's helped you the most so far? What can people do for the music community? 
Ben: Jeez, it’s hard to say, in part because no one really seems to know yet just how long this will all last, though it sounds like it may be quite a while before I’d feel ethically okay about inviting people to pile into a room together to listen to me. I’ve been trying to kind of take it a week at a time and get through that way, but at this point I’m reluctant to restructure my whole business model — in part because the fact that I love traveling around and playing live shows so much is largely why I wound up in this job to begin with. But at the same time, there’s this fairly urgent financial situation suddenly facing all musicians, in which we’ve just lost basically all of our income for the foreseeable future! A lot of us are taking donations, or putting out old live recordings and other unreleased content, or just doing a bunch of livestreams, but these all feel like stopgap measures to me, and I think they do for most musicians. But yes, if people are looking for something they can do to help, donations really do help a lot (and I’m, uh, accepting them at my website, in case anyone reading your piece is feeling particularly charitable). And frankly, so has all the nonmonetary support I’ve received from fans via emails, messages, and social media. Maybe it’s because it’s been hard to feel helpless at a time when so many people are suffering — or maybe it’s because performers are just accustomed to a bunch of external validation when we can actually play shows — but I can tell you from the bottom of my heart that it’s meant a lot during these times to hear from people who are being helped through them in some small way by my music. 
Molly: Last but not least: is there a live hour of accordion music in our future? 
Ben: Ha, I don’t think so... I feel like now would be a uniquely terrible time to alienate my entire audience.
Molly: Haha, I had to try!

May 2020

Photo courtesy of Molly Papows

Molly Papows is an art historian based in Lebanon, NH. She has an MA in the History of Art and Architecture from Boston University and ten years of experience working in encyclopedic fine art museums. She’s also interested in the many ways an artist can tell a story across disciplines — from fiction and nonfiction to poetry, landscape architecture, and music.
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