When Brandon and Hollie Lytle opened Dahlonega’s newest social house earlier this year, it was designed with very clear intentions: be a place where the community gathers.
However, when social gatherings turned to social distancing, it definitely changed their operations.
Remarkably, social distancing and ‘the new normal’ has yet to shut them down.
“We do have our doors open, the challenge is understanding what the guidelines are as fast as things are changing,” Brandon Lytle said.
Canopy + The Roots is one of only a few businesses in downtown Dahlonega to remain open throughout the battle against COVID-19, but not without major changes to the way they conduct business.
Most notably, the lounging, hang-out atmosphere inside of the social house has been exchanged for a sense of social responsibility coupled with social distance. The result: service and selection right at the doorstep.
Imagine a food truck, but in a building.
“We went to curbside voluntarily, certainly on the cusp of it, maybe even the first people to throw a curbside sign out, because we didn't want that foot traffic coming through the doors so we pulled our tables up to the front and we're just presenting our merchandise that we sell every day...and we still have our member coffee brewing,” Brandon said. “At this point there's no contact with customers, no customers coming in the store and we are opening our doors to merchandise our retail products.”
THE BUSINESS OF RESPONSIBILITY
Canopy + The Roots is not technically considered food service or food sales, as all of its food is individually wrapped before ever arriving. In effect a retail store, the Lytles are not binded by the regulations that forced restaurants to either close or go curbside/delivery-only. Still, they felt it necessary to consider those guidelines in their business and restrict all customers from coming in the doors.
“I think you just choose to be responsible, do it responsibly,” Brandon said. “There's the social responsibility of wanting our patrons to be in a safe and healthy environment. I think sliding these tables up to the front door completely blocks the entrance while presenting our retail merchandise and people can shop from the sidewalk, it just makes sense. I think there's one part of being socially responsible and one part of being economically wise and we're leaning on the guidance of the CDC.”
While the owners could’ve packed up and decided to wait out the virus behind closed doors, Hollie said they feel part of their social responsibility is to remain open for the community.
“Our whole thing is being a place and a space for community and to serve the community,” she said. “So until the community tells us that we have to shut our doors, we are going to be here serving the community. That's why we started in the first place.”
To help the sense of community carry on, Canopy + The Roots have taken many of its in-house staples like its daily yoga and weekend live performances and made them available for free online for patrons to tune in via live stream.
“Our concerts that we had booked, the artists are actually coming here, playing a show in the basement and we're live streaming that on the YouTube channel,” Brandon said. “So our first one we did last week, and we're asking for donations, so the artist put his Venmo account out there and he got $110 in donations, so it took a show of making zero to making something. There's two to five people max down there and then we live stream it and people can watch from their living rooms or wherever they have a data connection.”
HOLDING ONTO HOPE
The idea is to continue building the feeling of community that patrons would normally share inside their establishment, even at a time when most are at home.
“We want to build the community, we want to share, we can all be isolated but we can still be together,” Brandon said.
At the same time, the Lytles understand the severity of the pandemic and are constantly reading over guidelines to ensure that they’re in compliance.
If more restrictions come down that require Canopy + The Roots to be closed, Hollie ensures they will do so.
“Obviously none of us want that to happen but if we have to do those things then we're going to do those things,” she said. “Every day reveals new information. If the community says, 'Hey you need to shut it down,' that makes sense.”
In the meantime, the Lytles hope that they can be what people need to get through this tough, unprecedented time.
“Hopefully, we can continue that little piece of normalcy for the community in the whole grand scheme of serving the community,” Hollie said.
Brandon says he’s already noticed evidence of what being the constant can do for people during this time.
“Just the smile on their face, a breath of fresh air and just a level of hope like oh, there's still life, there's still some normalcy left in our lives and there can be,” he said. “Being able to talk to people for extended periods of time, there's not a whole lot of foot traffic so people just kind of linger. People want to be social and talk and praying with people and just providing some hope. And I think they give us the same thing.”