Christopher Webb 'BA97
Christopher Webb BA’97
Owner, PAVIA Gallery-Espresso Bar and Café
“The way we run things and our business is creatively. Creative people face challenges all of the time and come up with creative solutions. Now we’re just doing it in the face of a global health crisis.”
How has Covid-19 affected your business Pavia?
It’s huge, it has changed it completely. Before restaurants had to close, the museums and the libraries closed. We were essentially shut down a week before everything else. That gave us a week and a half lead time of panic. The setback we experienced became a set up. At the time, my parents were in Italy and that gave us a clear picture of what could happen in Nova Scotia. It made us realize we were going to have to do something.
Could you tell us how Pavia Gallery transformed itself into a grocery store in the midst of the Covid-19 crises?
We decided quickly to close for a few days to think about what we were going to do. Our food philosophy really prompted our change. We make everything from scratch and that means we’re already getting the supplies we need such as free-range eggs, fair trade chocolate, meat from Meadowbrook Meat Market, etc. So, we thought ‘why don’t we put what we have in the back of the house in the front’. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time as we had everything ready to sell. It only took us a few days to turn it around and open the grocery store.
Are you/Pavia doing anything else to help the community through this difficult time?
The main thing we’re doing is functioning as a community grocer. Through the store, we are offering people the ability to protect themselves while they shop. A maximum of four are allowed in the space at one time. One of the things that we did was buy a freezer and fill it with our products that are made from scratch. We also brought in different products from local suppliers. In that way we’re acting as an outlet for suppliers who have lost a huge amount of business because of COVID-19. We also offer online grocery shopping and we were able to set that up within 24 hours.
Could you tell us about your Arts segment on Global Television?
Sure, it’s called The Visual Arts Abstract. The first three segments were done in the Global Studio, but due to COVID-19 I’ve been doing subsequent episodes with Global host Alyse Hand from my studio. In April, I did a segment on art therapy and before that featured the ‘Young Artist Challenge’, where children submitted their art through social media.
Do you think the Arts are playing an even greater role in our communities during this time of self-isolation?
Arts, possibly. Creativity, 100 percent. My partner Victoria and I are not business people. The way we run things and our business is creatively. Creative people face challenges all of the time and come up with creative solutions. Now we’re just doing it in the face of a global health crisis.
What are the challenges and opportunities that have come out of the crises for you and/or Pavia?
The opportunity to become the community grocer in Herring Cove. It’s like an up-market corner store meets the farmers market in downtown Halifax. Our customers keep asking us if we’re going to keep the store when this is all cover. Herring Cove has always been a special place for us, so keeping the grocery component of this is a definite possibility.
How do you think small businesses will survive through the crisis?
The businesses that do ok, will be ok. The businesses that do really well will be ok. Those who were struggling before the crisis will be in trouble. It’s really hard to say what the economy will be like. Tourism is going to be a challenge, that’s for sure.
What made you choose Saint Mary’s University and the Political Science Program?
I’ve always been into the visual arts and arts-minded. Many people suggested that it was great to have art as a hobby, but that I needed to focus on more realistic things first. Many of my family went to Saint Mary’s and I wanted to play basketball there, so I applied. I was interested in politics so I took political science. I found success in that and I continued to do it. I didn't make the basketball team, but I was involved in the student union executive and later became president of the students’ union. After graduating, I worked in government for a little while but, it wasn’t what I really wanted to do so I quit all of that and moved to Southern Italy.
What inspired you to start Pavia?
When Victoria and I met 12 years ago, I was a visual artist and she came from a food and health background. We always talked about ‘the other thing’ we wanted to do in life. We would joke about opening an espresso bar in Herring Cove. But, one day came and we decided that we would. We didn’t think it would work, but we went for it. We thought ‘when this fails at least we can say that we did what we wanted to’. But, it ended up working! Over the years we opened three more locations and the gallery aspect of PAVIA has exhibited many important visual artists who have included Tom Forrestall, Ursula Johnson, Graeme Patterson, and many more!
What was your experience like at Saint Mary’s University?
I was given the opportunity to mess a lot of things up and I made some stupid choices. I was involved in a lot of things during my time in the students' union and I was trying my best. But, in most cases I was succeeding or living up to expectations. I learned you can’t be successful all of the time. I was really proud of some things and others not so much. All of that prepared me for what it was going to be like to be a visual artist. As an artist, you have to be ready to be in the public eye, to have opinions, and to stand up for what you believe in. I’m very grateful for my experience at Saint Mary’s.