Bronwyn Berg and Hal Bennett consider themselves lucky, thus the name of their Clover Clothing Co. location at the Chemainus Public Market.
They opened the consignment business that also includes some new clothing on Aug. 1, securing one of the last two available market spaces.
“Who opens a store during a pandemic?” Berg queried. “We do. I definitely felt like Chemainus needed a consignment store.”
Berg, 50 and Bennett, 48, both had life-changing experiences in recent years. Berg sustained a brain injury six years ago that resulted in a seizure, movement and balance disorder. Bennett underwent a kidney transplant six years ago and leg amputations were required a year later due to infections.
They’ve both been through a lot, but finding each other has helped endure the difficult days.
“It was very life-altering,” Berg said of her injury. “There’s lots of grieving that needs to be done, but then you get to a point of acceptance. People see the wheelchair and feel sad. I’m not the least bit sad about the wheelchair. Before I had the wheelchair I was crawling around and gripping walls.
“I’m definitely a survivor,” she added. “Hal and I don’t feel bad about our lives. We definitely have challenges. I can’t work every day and had to give up my academic pursuits and career as a writer.”
Rather than “suffering” seizures that’s common parlance, she prefers to call it “experiencing” seizures.
“I don’t let it ruin my life,” said Berg. “You find other things you can do you’re passionate about from your couch. When I’m unable to be at the store I work on my crocheting business.
“We’re extremely lucky to have found each other. It can be a very isolating life. To go through disability with a partner is amazing. Our disabilities are different. We’re able to care for each other without it ever being a burden. We never treat each other like we’re a burden.”
Bennett was a Type 1 diabetic from the age of three. Complications from the diabetes eventually killed his kidneys. He went on dialysis 11 years ago and eventually had the transplant.
Bennett spent eight months in the hospital in Kamloops and had nine surgeries dealing with infections. The amputations of his legs below both knees were required five years ago.
“I was always aware it was a possibility,” he said.
Bennett also had to have a pancreas transplant two years ago.
“The pancreas are more or less to ensure the kidneys stay healthy,” he explained.
“My attitude tends to be fairly productive. I hate the word ‘positive.’ I like to see the wonder in things and live for the moment.
Bennett discovered wheelchair rugby and basketball and is an avid sit-skier.
“If I’m not at the store, I’m on the slopes.”
The incredible improvements made over the years can be seen in his prosthetics, with ease of movement and different components used in their construction like carbon fibre.
“I can jog with them,” said Bennett. “I don’t. But they afford me with a lot of mobility.”
He still uses a wheelchair as well, but “I’ve gotten a little more endurance out of my legs,” he indicated.
Both Berg and Bennett had previous relationships before their chance meeting and five grown children between them.
Berg was a stay-at-home mom for many years with two children, doing the writing and marketing for a family business in the days before blogs.
Bennett was born in Burnaby, but has lived in many different places, including Boston, Toronto and Deep Cove on the west coast. He has a 27-year-old daughter and sons aged 23 and 21.
Berg had been studying creative writing at the UBC campus in Kelowna during the time of her fall and Bennett was just out of hospital from his amputations and living in Kamloops when they crossed paths.
They had both been wheelchair shopping around the same time and fell in love with the same chair. It can take a long time for a custom-fit wheelchair to arrive, so the company allowed them to share the chair as a loaner.
“My publishing career was just taking off, but I was unable to give literary readings without the loaner chair, which a mysterious guy in Kamloops got ‘stealing,’” noted Berg.
When Bennett and Berg met for the first time, they recognized each other through the wheelchair he was still using. “Hey, you’re the guy who kept stealing my wheelchair,” she said.
Bennett said he was instantly interested in Berg. She was interested in remaining single. They both claim it took Berg four months to give him her phone number, though they talked on Facebook Messenger regularly.
“We were going through the same thing at the time, adjusting to living in a world not designed for us. It was a very bonding experience,” Berg said.
“All went from there, we became best friends and then we became a couple. He wore me down.”
“She’s a breath of fresh air, that’s for sure,” said Bennett. “You know when you meet someone there’s more here.
They lived together for about a year in Kelowna before coming to Chemainus.
“We came here by accident,” noted Berg.
“I always liked the Island,” Bennett added. “I just never spent much time over here. We drove around and we found Chemainus.”
And they were impressed by the accessibility of Chemainus.
“Why are there ramps everywhere?” Berg said with delight. “We felt like we were in Disneyland. Aside from a few stores, everything’s accessible.”
Clover Clothing Co. is a reflection of their journey in many ways. “We liked the sound of it for one thing,” said Berg. “Hal used to say ‘you’re the cute one and I’m the lucky one.’”
It’s also a twist on the “unlucky” moniker that seems to go with their territory.
“I felt frustrated by this,” she conceded. “I don’t think of myself as unlucky.”
And there’s also the aspect of turning up something special for shoppers.
“People love to go treasure hunting so there’s a bit of that as well,” said Berg. “We’ve been talking about doing a consignment shop for years. It wasn’t the right timing and I was basically housebound for five years.”
There are many reasons why people shop in consignment stores. For some, it’s finding that unique item you won’t find in the mall; for some, it’s environmentally friendly to reuse clothes rather than fill our landfills; and for others, it’s to save money.
“A lot of disabled people struggle financially,” Berg indicated. “And yet many consignment stores aren’t wheelchair accessible. We are passionate about accessibility. We wouldn’t do it unless we could have a location that was inclusive to everyone. The Chemainus Public Market was a unique opportunity. They already had a flat entrance, automatic door openers and an accessible bathroom. All that we added was a wheelchair accessible change room.
“We feel lucky to have found a town that has been so accessible, a business where we can offer an inclusive experience. And we’re lucky to have found each other.”