ANNAPOLIS ROYAL, NS - Caught in a downpour? If you’re in Annapolis Royal just grab an umbrella and keep shopping, or sightseeing, or doing whatever you were doing.
Eighty of the pink and black umbrellas arrived in town last week and you’ll see them in stands up and down St. George Street, ready to be borrowed if it starts to rain.
“It’s an idea I’ve been sitting on for a while,” said Kimberly Gunn who’s seen communal umbrellas in other places. “It’s a simple, approachable, welcoming way to keep people engaged, involved in a community. Rainy days are awesome days. They really are the days that people like to stick around a community. It shouldn’t be a deterrent. They’re great for shopping, for eating. Going into galleries, into museums, checking out the attractions. And it’s the Maritimes. It rains. So why wouldn’t we use that to our advantage? Let’s keep people here.”
May 31 Gunn unpacked the boxes to reveal the bright-coloured umbrellas printed with ‘Welcome to Annapolis Royal’ in English, French, and Mi’ kmaq. Mayor Bill MacDonald was there, along with members of Awesome Annapolis, the group that helped fund the unique venture.
Awesome Annapolis hands out $1,000 once a month to fund awesome ideas.
“Originally I pitched the idea of 100 umbrellas to be on the streets of Annapolis Royal this summer,” Gunn said. “At the last minute I found ridiculous black and pink ones that was in the Awesome Annapolis colours and it looked like a sturdier umbrella given our weather here, so I bought 80. They will be on the streets for hopefully the summer and available in about 20 locations around town.”
Gunn said the idea was that Awesome Annapolis would sponsor the up-front cost of purchasing the umbrellas. For the additional costs of shipping, getting them printed, and some of the extras that go along with it – some of the posters for the locations – she wanted some sponsorship involvement.
“I want the community to get involved, so local sponsors,” she said. “Locations pitched in $30 each and that allowed them to sponsor five umbrellas each. Six bucks each.”
For that they got name recognition on the umbrella – a little tag with their business card on it.
“And as part of the challenge too, but a fun one because it’s such a creative town, I encouraged all the locations to be responsible for their own umbrella stand. It kept costs down but it also encouraged creativity,” she said. “I wanted people to come up with some really neat ideas. And it’s been fun already. There’s been some really neat ideas percolating.”
Gunn said it’s up to the individual businesses to display the umbrellas – it could be inside their shop or on the sidewalk.
1Scoop2Scoop, the town’s popular ice cream shop, had the umbrellas displayed outside in a tiny barrel with a sign that read ‘Lotawatta’ and a tiny fishing rod attached. The sign beside it said ‘Rain or Shine Ice Cream is Devine.’ And of course they were serving their ‘Shipwreck Float.’
“The goal is to have them as accessible as possible. It’s kind of a good neighbor policy as well. If you have more than you need, check on a neighbouring location to see if they could use some,” Gunn said. “They will all get mixed up around town and that’s part of it too – a bit of a scavenger hunt, it gives them a reason to check out another locations they might not have thought to see.”
Umbrellas will be available at locations up and down St. George Street – from the train station and ARTsPlace, all the way down to King’s Theatre and beyond.
Gunn said if you’re caught in the rain, the rest is easy.
“If you see a stand you’re encouraged to grab an umbrella, use it as long as you need to,” she said. “Just drop it off when you’re done. Drop it off at your last location – if you can find one of our umbrella stands.”
May 31 was the first day the Awesome Annapolis trustees saw the umbrellas and where their money was going.
“I wanted them to be the first ones to see their investment at work,” Gunn said. “That was important to me to have a visual project where they would see it. This one hits the street. Everyone gets to see it. Everyone is involved one way or the other.”
She said it will be fun for them to see over the course of the summer.
“Every time they see one on the street they’ll know that’s their investment in the community,” said Gunn. “That was exciting for me.”
Gunn said putting 80 umbrellas on the street on the honour system is a huge experiment.
“They might all break in the wind in the first week,” she said. “They might all end up in someone’s car trunk.” People might forget to drop them off. We have no idea.”
She’s optimistic that whatever happens will be good in some way.
“If they end up out of town, well great, we’ve promoted Annapolis Royal somewhere else. It’s the chance we take,” she said. “A few will break without a doubt. That’s part of it. That’s part of life. But hopefully we’ve helped someone out along the way. It’s just meant to be a simple, good-natured gesture. And it creates an impression too. I think a lot of small communities you drive through on a rainy day you say ‘oh, it’s raining, let’s not stop.’ Instead of ‘oh, there are a lot of people on the street. That looks like a pretty inviting place to be. That just looks wild. What’s going on here.’ That’s part of the idea, to stand out a little bit.”
Does the name Kimberly Gunn sound familiar? Besides being a bagpiper you’ve probably seen and heard at local events, she created the Annapolis Royal Celebration Tartan that was unveiled during Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confereation. Her shop in Annapolis Royal is called Tartan Wave.