COVID-19 & the Glass Scene
First off, I want to welcome everyone to the first edition of the “Boro Blog.” My goal for this blog is to provide news & insight on the borosilicate pipe movement.
Who am I?
What do I know about the pipe movement? Well, let me introduce myself. My name is Josh Wilken-Simon, and I own Legacy Glassworks. We are a brick-and-mortor art gallery and head shop located in Duluth and Minneapolis, Minnesota. I started Legacy in 2009 while I was attending Hamline University in St. Paul. My cousin “Sloth” is a very talented local glassblower and my business began by taking his art and going hand to hand at musical festivals. In 2010, I opened our Duluth gallery and in 2017 our Minneapolis shop. Over the last decade I have lived and breathed the boro movement, and I hope I can provide some insight on this vibrant modern art form!
Shelter in Place
Well, its no coincidence that I am launching the “Boro Blog“ while 245 million Americans are living in states or cities with “shelter in place” or “stay home” ordinances in effect. For the last decade I have been grinding 70-80 hour weeks growing my galleries -- so adjusting to a slower pace is shocking to say the least. As of last Friday, March 27, 2020, the Governor of Minnesota closed all non-essential businesses and thus Legacy Glassworks was forced to temporarily close. The first and most immediate impact of this was that I (along with thousands of business owners in Minnesota alone) had to lay off every one of my employees. It is absolutely devastating and heartbreaking to have to do. Like many high end head shops, many of my employees are avid glass collectors. Their collections will not be growing anytime soon. According to the analyticsfrom our Instagram page, 76 percent of our audience is between the ages of 18-34. This age group is far more likely to be one of the 3.3 million Americans filing for unemployment last week. When trying to quicklyfigure out how to pay April’s rent, a new glass pipe is not even a fleeting thought for the vast majority of Americans
What is an essential business?
“Essential” business has been a heated controversy in every single state that has implemented any type of stay at home ordinances. Grocery stores and pharmacies, that's a no brainier. How about liquor stores? Minnesotans have been swarming liquor stores assuming they will be closed any second. Minnesota has declared liquor stores essential but Pennsylvania has closed every liquor store in the state. Colorado tried to deem dispensaries as non-essential businesses and immediately had to reverse course after a large public outcry. Head shops & art galleries? Definitely not essential in the eyes of the state. Should mental health be taken into account in this discussion? As the weeks turn into months, and folks are confined to their homes, would allowing the cooped-up public to be able to walk around an art gallery (while still social distancing, of course) and bring home some functional art to raise spirits once at home be helpful?
With physical head shops and art galleries boarding up their windows across the country, the local glassblowers that rely on these retail outlets to sell their wares are left scrambling. While some high end artists have been able to build a following on social media, the majority of the country’s glassblowers sell their work wholesale to shops. These artists who focus on production glass will not be able to file for unemployment. As a result, many artists will be forced to slash their prices to attempt to stay afloat. I have personally had to cancel multiple orders from local glassblowers; and, of course, I am very reluctant to do so. On the high end glass side of the market, expect prices to fall. Many shops (Legacy included) stock a wide range of high-priced art pipes. When no customers can come in, rent still has to be paid and the only thing that can be done is attempt to liquidate inventory.
420 & COVID
Why did this pesky virus choose the spring to devastate the U.S.? This year will be the first and only April in our lives that the whole month will be 4/20 (get it? April of 2020). Like Valentines Day for flower shops, or NY Eve for bars, 4/20 is the biggest day of the year for every head shop in the country. Many celebrate with big parties, live glassblowing and of course, the all-important sale. The parties are out, but expect the sales to be bigger than ever.
From Toke City to Instagram
No one wants a natural disaster to permanently close their business. The only thing that can be done is adapt. The natural place to go is the internet. For the last decade plus, I have been immersed in the digital glass pipe scene. Prior to the Internet, there were high-end galleries in most states – the only place to find heady glass was on TokeCity.com. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, this website was a glass pipe forum in the early 2000s. Lots of ya at this time only knew pipes as the ones underneath your sink (that's ok, of course). This was the height of Operation Pipes and everyone was scared to sell online (rightly so). In order to buy pipes on Toke City, you had to be personally invited into a secret back room. I remember the exact day when I got the invite. Holy shit did I feel cool-- being able to buy headies and not just drool over them on glasspipes.org. Of course, it’s 2020 and there are thousands of people who make a living selling used and/or new pipes right from Instagram. With more people sitting on their couches, there is more time to get lost in IG, but with all the brick-and-mortar stores and artists being forced to have Instagram as their only outlet and many Americans strapped for cash, will the sales be there for everyone?
The glass pipe movement exploded last decade and has been growing ever since. Prices have risen and fallen over the years, like any industry. More and more glassblowers have been firing up a torch for the first time. Expect the pace of new artists to expand as we look down a potential 30 percent nationwide unemployment. However, during COVID, gasses could very well run out. Our oxygen company has said that during the stay at home ordinance they will only be delivering to essential businesses. With the popularity of oxygen generating systems, new glass will still be made even if tanks cannot be delivered. Will some established head shops never reopen their doors? Yes. Will some glassblowers never pull another point? Yes. Will the glass pipe movement survive? Yes. We are all going to have to adapt but our community is strong and is built on spreading happiness through art. Everyone is gonna need a little more art in their lives as a global pandemic upends the world as we know it!