Saturday, January 9, 2016

Farewell to Nova Scotia - A story of Nova Scotia Devastation - Part 1

This painting was done by Michael Hames, one of the two owners of Harris House.  It is called Quiet Desparation.   I am having a very hard time publishing this letter because just like Jane's hands were shaking as she wrote to me, my hands are shaking as I type.  Tony and I happened upon Harris House on a trip to Annapolis Royale and it was like walking into a fantasy.  Michael restores antique lighting and seems to be able to do just about anything. When you see his art you are rendered speechless.
This letter from Jane is very long, but there is not a word I would leave out, so I will post it over a few days. In case you are still thinking that this battle is about one hat maker in Nova Scotia...Think again.  This is about every person in Nova Scotia and if IF YOU ARE NOT PART OF THE SOLUTION THEN YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM.   Please share this story in any way you know how.

Jane and Michael are having a giant moving sale beginning August 1st.  Please go support them and tell them you are sorry on behalf of Nova Scotia and that you will work for change, so that they may have a second chance at their dream.  Their web site is

Dear Anna,

This letter is proving very difficult to write as I relive the saga of misery our Nova Scotia dream turned out to be. If this was an old fashioned pen and ink letter which a lady like yourself surely deserves (but it would never get written the way my hand now shakes) it would be blotchy and unreadable from tears I thought I had once and for all finished shedding.

Before I backtrack and lose more than one of your readers, I’ll start by saying that we had hoped Lunenburg County would be our refuge, the answer to our troubles in Annapolis Royal. We’ve been exploring the area for years now, and had hoped to move our restored antique lighting business to the Lahave/Riverport area. But a conversation with the county building inspector in 2012 (we were very ready to borrow the balance of what we needed to settle in an ideal area property) told us we would be required to have the firewall, wheelchair ramp, public handicap accessible washrooms, etc. $20,000-$25,000 package which you and many others are facing. I thought it interesting (and ambiguous, even at the time) that he claimed this was a provincial rule and out of his hands.

Whatever the case, this was simply not a viable option for us either financially or logically. Like yourself, Anna, and many other businesses I’ve been reading about, we are small, do more and more online business and are very specialised. Most serious customers call ahead because they are looking very specifically for an item. That is not to say that we don’t get the odd number of happily surprised tourists that enjoy discovering our unique business. But no busloads for us, either!

When a customer buys one of our pieces, whether a planned or impulse buy, we always ask if they’d like to wander around the area to see the attractions, other shops or have lunch while we carefully package their items, as this is a fragile product we offer. Usually, they don’t return for an hour or three as they discover new territory and it is not uncommon for those who come specifically for our products to have already booked a B&B for the night. I am not exaggerating here – one young Norwegian woman planned her Canadian vacation around a visit to our shop, she so loves genuine 1930s Art Deco lighting. I suspect that many other niche businesses, yours certainly no exception, have had similar experiences with their clientele. To make it financially impossible or undesirable for a small business to operate is no doubt doing harm to the whole community who would have benefited enormously from the spinoff business. And like you and your hat business, Anna, we need the walk-in traffic less and less as we perfect our online presence. Like you, too, though, we enjoy the in-person visitors as much as they are thrilled to have stumbled upon another unique and unexpected business in Nova Scotia.

We still hadn’t given up on the Riverport/Lahave dream a year ago. After the final straw with the Town of Annapolis Royal (who have their own unique take on how to make small businesses want to flee) we took a drive out to the South Shore area and looked at some more possible locations for our growing but still miniature business. This time, however, the realtor (same one as before) was far less encouraging than she had been two years before. Word was out, and she couldn’t honestly say that we wouldn’t be facing the same issues, no matter how we tried to arrange things.

We were determined, though, and willing to get creative. We stopped and asked a business lady we’d had dealings with on several occasions (whose name I shall keep anonymous in an effort to spare her any grief) if she had ever thought of renting an unused portion of her own shop. She seemed very receptive to the idea--our two businesses were very complementary rather than competitive and we felt it could be of great mutual benefit. Renting a part of an established commercial location seemed to make sense, was surely a way to have a legitimate location--and it would have been a minimal rent--we wouldn’t (and couldn’t)
consider it otherwise. We could buy a modestly priced place nearby and I could walk to the showroom in the mornings while Michael remained at home, doing the restoration work on our antique lighting.

 It would not have been an ideal situation for us – we like working near each other. I like being able to summon him for technical questions on the lighting or for simple alteration work on a piece someone has bought and wants to take home. And Michael likes to consult me for an opinion on this or that as he works on a project. We also like to offer flexibility to our clients as to the hours, and she was quite rigid, getting on in years. But it was a viable solution, and we so wanted a new start in a place we’d come to love.

Six weeks later, when we felt we were in a situation to seal the deal, we went back to see this lady. What a different reception we got. She was friendly as always, but nervous. She’d heard a lot of talk since our last meeting, had heard many stories and was afraid that having us there would draw attention to her own business which she admitted did not have the new requirements, and she could ill afford them. It seemed they were going after the new people, at least at first, and she wanted to keep a low profile at her stage in life. She was sorry, but the deal was off.

It was at this point that we both thought, okay, I guess Nova Scotia doesn’t want us and it’s time to see if there is any way we can make going back to BC a reality. We’re luckier than some, if you can call being my aging and soon-to-need-my-help parents’ only surviving child of three, lucky. But circumstances have changed in seven years, like it or not, and we’ve acquired a third of a share in a Vancouver Island property. Over the past winter we invested what was left of our money (which would have gone into a Nova Scotia property) into this location, preparing a showroom and workshop for our lighting business and separate living accommodations. It’s not ideal and it’s not what we wanted.

Part two of this letter will be posted tomorrow.

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