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Quarantine Chronicles: Clinton Edminster
Photo by Geoff L. Johnson.
CLINTON EDMINSTER is the owner of Starlandia Art Supply, which is just one of the local businesses that has had to change the way things are done. He’s committed to offering affordable art supplies, especially since art is needed now more than ever. He is also running to be 2nd District Chatham County Commissioner.

This is Clinton’s Quarantine Chronicle.

How are you doing?

I’m doing really well. I would say that all things considered, this has been an eye-opening experience, to say the least. Right now, I’m doing great. I’ve got food, I’ve got shelter, I’ve got people I know—I’ve got everything anyone would need.

How is Starlandia doing?

Honestly, I don’t even know how to answer that question. What does that mean? How is Starlandia doing? Well, in one way Starlandia is suffering the most catastrophic month of all time. In another word, Starlandia is doing fine and really trying to innovate right now. So how do you want me to answer that?

That seems like this is the worst month we’ve ever had since we opened—it’ll be worse than the first month we opened—but I don’t feel like it’s particularly bad.

What have you been doing now that’s innovative?

I think what we realized not very long ago was that the store is now a warehouse. The store is a place that has things you need, and you can go in and get them. A warehouse is a place that has things you need and there’s some sort of barrier. You can’t really go into the warehouse.

We’ve had to pivot into being more of a warehouse, which is difficult because so much of the thinking about Starlandia is about the customer experience and walking through the door, hear the bell ring, hear, “Hi, welcome to Starlandia,” it has a smell and a sound. Now that’s no longer a part of how we think about that experience.

We are doing online ordering. It’s not really possible for us to have an online inventory, and I don’t know if it makes sense that it’s not. A lot of people are like, “Well, you could!” And I’m like, “Not really.”

Why not?

The beauty of something online is that you take one photo of something and that photo represents the 30 basically identical new copies of that thing. We would have to take tens of thousands of photos and catalog them all. Which ones do we take photos of? Which ones do we not?

We were kind of looking to do it on people’s experience of the store beforehand and working with people one-on-one. It’s a little more time-consuming, it’s less automatic, but we get to hear what people are actually trying to do. We get to talk with them, we get to catch up with some of our folks that have been coming in for years that we haven’t seen in a while. The lack of automation on our ordering side, I think, is really up with what Starlandia has been really strong about, which is that we’re all human beings on Earth trying to make some artwork, and it’s a weird messy process.

I’m also realizing that there are a couple things that are true. One is that this is not going to last forever. I don’t know how long it’s going to last, but it’s not going to last forever. And then the other one is that it could be a very long time before I ever have this much time off in my life again. Maybe forever.

Maureen, the store manager, and I, the first week this happened, we were like, “You know what, let’s take some time for ourselves because we have been putting 120% into that store for the last five years, at least for me.” It was like, “Oh, have a break!” and I was like, “Okay, yes.”

I wouldn’t have if this happened, but since it did, I’m taking advantage of it. It also helps with thinking clearly about the store when we came back to it. We could see, “Oh, well what if we did this differently? This needs to get fixed.” It’s healthy to do that.

Did you come to any other realizations?

Yes. I feel so much gratitude for the store and our customers and the world we’ve created. I feel like sometimes, in the rush of trying to run a business and make it work, you miss out on how awesome it actually is.

Starlandia actually works. It is a profitable business, we actually do have employees, we pay our taxes, we do the thing. And I’ve been pushing real hard on it for the last two years, and for good returns definitely.

But I feel like this has been a lesson in that it’s okay to slow down and enjoy the store as it is without always being like, “How can we make this better?” Yes, we should definitely be thinking about how we can make it better, but also, enjoy it for what it is, because it could be gone whenever.

What’s next after the pandemic is over?

I’m not going to open up until Bull Street opens up. There’s such a strong solidarity around Starland and that’s why I love living here, that’s why I love owning a business here, is because of that intangible, unquantifiable solidarity between us that live here and work here—it’s not even one or the other. It’s so intertwined.

I’m not opening until Bull Street opens, and when it does, we’re going to be running on a much lighter crew. Honestly, other than that, there’s not a whole bunch of big changes.

We’ll definitely maintain health standards and make sure we’re working on all that and have a bit of a skeleton crew when we start out, just to make sure we’re able to put money back into reserves. But Starlandia is a fairly light business without a whole bunch of overhead, so there’s not too much we’re going to change.

As far as I know now. Tomorrow, everything might change. I also feel like if you were asking me that and I owned a restaurant or a bar, I’d have a very different answer, but I don’t.

We are planning on doing a Starlandia sidewalk art project or something like that. We’re not really sure what the name is because we want to stay away from the SCAD festival name. The idea is it’s a distributed gallery of chalk-based artwork on public sidewalks throughout the city. They’re not in one place, they’d be all over. We’d be tagging them on social media and creating little temporary maps maybe every weekend or every couple of days, so you can go and find where different ones are in front of different people’s houses by different artists.

We’ll be sharing them on Facebook, inviting you to do one in front of your house, or maybe you hire an artist or maybe you trade them an orange to do one.

The one thing we’re trying to demonstrate is, nobody wants to go to a football game, or be crowded somewhere, but we still have so much to share. How can we do it? I think the way we do it now is by separating ourselves in space and time. The sidewalk art thing is not a night; we’re going to be doing it for the month. Not everybody has to go out on one night, just go out whenever. And then it’s also separated by space because it’s not all in Forsyth Park. We’re not even doing it all on one block.

I’m trying to figure out what are some ways to start creating frameworks, not just for myself but really for anybody else, as we negotiate how we approve a a community which events are okay and which events are not okay. There’s got to be messaging on the front hand about, “Hey, we’re aware of COVID and we’re taking it seriously, and let’s go and look at some art!”