Living Local & Other Silver Linings of the Covid-Era

A year and a half ago, when countries around the world closed their borders due to COVID-19, international travel came to a halt and global trade was disrupted. Suddenly, the concept of “living local” became more than a quaint notion to strive for.

My family took more trips here in the Inland Northwest, exploring “new” places right under our noses. Attendance at farmers’ markets spiked and local food box subscriptions sold out. We barbecued, gathered around bonfires with friends and neighbors, and talked to strangers in the park down the street.

We remembered how important it is to shop from local businesses, not only to keep money in our community, but because those entrepreneurs are our friends and neighbors. We hunted for used bikes and outdoor gear online and at shops like Rambleraven Gear Trader because the supply chain on many things had gone berserk.

Shop, ski, bike, and adventure locally in the Northwest! PHOTOS (left-right): Rambleraven Gear Trader has gear and provides bike maintenance services. // Photo courtesy Rambleraven Gear Trader; A flannel-lined Spokane Mask for COVID-era skiing. // Photo: Amy McCaffree; Hometown tea towel sold at Atticus Coffee & Gifts. // Photo courtesy Atticus Coffee; We love our Spokane bike shops, like Wheel Sport. // Photo courtesy Wheel Sport Bicycles.

Slowly, many of us really began living local more than ever before. Although it’s yet to be seen, if we manage to hold on to some of those local connections in the years to come, the pandemic, despite its many tragic and terrible outcomes, will have had a silver lining for community involvement.

I, for one, will always look back on life over these past two years with at least some fondness. For the first time in my adult life, I felt connected to my community and neighbors in a deep, meaningful way. The degree to which our successes, failures, and fate have always been linked was made real before my eyes.

When COVID lockdowns first hit and the economy tumbled, many Out There advertisers began to cancel one after another. Who could blame them? People were scared and commerce slowed to a trickle.

We thought for a while that the end of OTO was near and feared for our future. For a week or so, we had a lot of time on our hands. We took long family walks through the neighborhood with our new shelter dog Fernie, named after a favorite place north of the border we could no longer visit. We stockpiled food and cooked elaborate meals, took up long-neglected house projects, and I even dusted off the old banjo.

Relocating the business from San Diego to Spokane, GSI Outdoors continued growing while maintaining a commitment to its employees and the local community.
Local adventures & local businesses. // Photo courtesy GSI Outdoors, based in Spokane.

Then, as suddenly as COVID had smacked us down, we were busier than ever with no time to worry about what would come next. When we couldn’t find a comfortable, quality facemask weeks before they became commonplace, my wife and Out There co-publisher Shallan launched Spokane Masks, selling local, incredibly comfortable hand-made masks in all sorts of stylish fabrics.

Thanks to friends and family who bought them at first, and then, after some great publicity in local media, a broader swath of the community that chose her quality local masks over cheap, mass-produced alternatives, we were living and breathing masks and barely keeping up on orders.            

A year and a half later, some things are getting back to normal and other aspects of life will never be the same. For us, mask sales have slowed to a trickle, but what started as a niche pandemic business has evolved into Spokane Made (spokanemade.com), an online store that sells a wide range of local, hand-made goods, from paperless paper towels to market totes and more.

Out There has bounced back too, and although we are publishing fewer issues these days, this is the biggest issue we have put out in two and a half years. As we go about our lives now, we are more keenly focused on shopping local and supporting local businesses than ever before, and we hope you are too.

In that spirit, this issue features our annual Local Holiday Gift Guide, which highlights nearly 100 gift ideas from local businesses, and other great gift ideas featured in the advertisements that make Out There Outdoors possible. You know what to do. Give them your love. Our community and the quality of life for all of us depends on it.

The quintessential Northwest outdoor adventurer, Derrick Knowles grew up in the Spokane area, graduated from Eastern Washington University, once worked for Conservation Northwest, and is now Out There Outdoors co-publisher and editor-in-chief. He co-edited with EWU professor and writer Paul Lindholdt the non-fiction anthology “Holding Common Ground: The Individual and Public Lands in the American West” (EWU Press, 2005).

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