Why downtown Elora storefronts are covered in rainbows

Like most communities, Elora is a quiet place right now. Shops are closed and many businesses are struggling to survive. A local artist took that as her cue to help.

Artist Bear Epp has created images for about 12 storefronts and plans to complete 20 in the next week

Bear Epp, an artist and community organizer, has spent the last week painting storefronts in Elora as many local businesses are suffering. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

The moment Bear Epp decided to paint rainbows on storefronts in downtown Elora was the happiest she'd been in weeks.

The artist and community organizer had most of her projects cancelled. She knew businesses in the village were also hurting.

"I was just compelled to work," she said.

Elora Cafe got a cookie eating duck with a coffee for its storefront. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

So she got out her paint and started putting together stencils. Epp had noticed images of rainbows online as a way to boost spirits through the COVID-19 pandemic. She contacted business owners to see if they'd like a free rainbow and a specialized icon to represent their business.

The answer was an overwhelming yes. And then the requests started coming. She and a small team of volunteers have already completed about a dozen paintings and are planning to have at least 20 rainbows dotting the streetscape of Elora in the next week.

"Mostly I think it's about looking into the future and bringing joy," said Epp. "Spreading some cheer in a quiet little village."

'We're still here'

Like most communities, Elora has become a lot more quiet since the pandemic. 

The village of about 7,800 is used to an influx of tourism dollars that starts during March Break and lasts throughout the summer, according to Jonathan Laurencic, one of the owners and founders of Elora Brewing Company and chair of the Elora BIA.

Now that Magic Pebble Children's Books has closed its doors, a tiger and pile of books adorn its storefront. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

Without the flow of tourists and with people respecting physical distancing, the community can feel like a ghost town.

"People have completely shuttered their doors," said Laurencic. "There are a lot of local businesses that are struggling right now."

Elora Brewing Company, for example, had to lay off most of its front of house and kitchen staff. Uncertainty is the common denominator for all the businesses in the village.

Elora Apothecary has closed its store to the public, but as an essential service the pharmacy offers curbside drop offs. When owner and pharmacist Bronwyn Tolmie saw the rainbows going up around the community, she immediately asked Epp if they could get one.

Jonathan Laurencic, who chairs the Elora BIA, says local businesses are dealing with layoffs and uncertainty. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

"It just provides that reminder that we are still here," said Tolmie. "If the storefront isn't physically open, [it shows] we're still here in some sort of presence. And not to forget about us."

Together from afar

Reactions to the rainbows have been from afar. Epp uses pylons and tapes off a perimeter while she paints the storefronts, so people will stay physically distanced.

She also keeps her distance from business owners — dropping off the stencil for them to tape inside the storefront, which allows her to paint outside. 

Bear Epp stays physically distanced by setting up pylons and caution tape so people stay back while she paints. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

As she stands there making fine brushstrokes, people honk their horns from the street. Others yell out "good job." One woman going by on a bike says she thinks the art is a good way to "break down the fear that's going on with the virus."

If somebody's day is slightly better for seeing a bright image on a storefront, then Epp feels like she's done something right.

"It's enjoyable to make people happy. It's simple, not too much more to it than that."


Julianne Hazlewood is a multimedia journalist who's worked at CBC newsrooms across the country as a host, video journalist, reporter and producer. Have a story idea?


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