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From the Publisher: Desk Duty


Published March 16, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated March 16, 2022 at 10:08 a.m.

Publisher Paula Routly's desk at Seven Days, frozen in time - PAULA ROUTLY ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Paula Routly ©️ Seven Days
  • Publisher Paula Routly's desk at Seven Days, frozen in time

Like so many offices frozen in time by the pandemic, Seven Days' has been mostly unoccupied for the past two years. Per safety protocols, almost all of our staff have been working from home, where, in my case, I did most of my writing and editing already. Along with an old photocopier — which still works — and my double-monitor computer setup, my home office is now crowded with racks of file folders that chronicle every obstacle and challenge we've faced as a business since March 13, 2020.

On weekends I venture back to HQ on Burlington's South Champlain Street to sign checks, pick up mail, and marvel at the empty space that used to be packed with people and dogs.

Most of our employees cleaned off their desks at some point during the plague, and a few have recently reclaimed them. But I haven't touched mine — at all. Layers of paper and correspondence have been added to the piles, but I haven't removed anything from the site. A dusty relic of the past, it feels both historic and sacred. No doubt a therapist for hoarders would make the point: If I have managed to live without these random business cards for two years, I probably don't need them, right?

Either way, it's time to get a grip and go back to the office. So, on Saturday, I trudged through the snowstorm with the intention of digging out my desk. Nostalgia set in immediately as I found things that recalled the moment when we shut down and how little we knew about the coronavirus at that time.

There was a signed credit application for the Lane Press, which was going to print our annual 7 Nights dining magazine for the first time in 2020. We canceled the job and haven't yet been able to resume publication.

A letter detailed the contents of a package of papers I had sent to New York Times media reporter Marc Tracy. He was all ready to write a feature about Seven Days and had scheduled a visit to Vermont but, of course, never boarded the plane. Instead, he put us in every one of his depressing "Will U.S. newspapers survive the pandemic?" roundup stories before quitting the media beat and joining the culture desk.

I unearthed a ceramic memento from our 2019 All Our Hearts project to memorialize victims of the opioid crisis; handouts for a presentation I never gave at a newspaper convention in Boston; holiday cards we custom-designed and sent staff the first year of the pandemic with the greeting: "Yule be glad when this year is over." Little did we know...

There were memorial service programs for my friend Paul Bruhn, who ran the Preservation Trust of Vermont, and for philanthropist Bobby Miller, our first landlord, who charged us almost nothing to rent the basement Church Street office we occupied before this one.

  • Courtesy Of Becky Bouchard
  • Fran Villemaire

At the same time, I noticed the fabulous photo of Fran Villemaire that illustrated the March 25, 2020, story I contributed to our "Adaptation" cover package — the first of many creative projects hatched by our reporting staff during the pandemic. Villemaire was celebrating her 100th birthday then. This Sunday, she turns 102. Both of her younger companions — my mother and Sue Haman — are gone.

I've saved every card and note that accompanied donations we received from Super Readers. Their encouraging words are stacked precariously next to my computer keyboard. I know I should find a safe place to store them, but, at least on Saturday, I couldn't bring myself to put them away — yet.

Much as I want to get back to the office, and beyond this awful time, the truth is: I don't ever want to forget it, either.