Quarantine Conversations – Michael Antonia + Kirk Mastin

Way Up North Podcast

We’ve been fortunate with WUN to come across great thinkers since we started in 2015. Brilliant minds that have inspired and challenged us, and when we need them the most, they’re there to lend ideas. Now is one of those times.

Below is text from an email Michael Antonia wrote to us outlining his take on the current state of businesses. When he wrote this, we read it start to finish and he’s absolutely right. Think about your own photography business or maybe you have a side hustle – small businesses can use all the help they can muster right now, so take to heart what Michael’s saying below.

To compliment Michael’s thesis, we felt it would be interesting to have him spitball with an artistic entrepreneur who has been in the photography game a long time. Kirk Mastin immediately came to mind.

So we lined it up, they made it happen, and we’re grateful for their thoughts on what businesses can do right now to navigate through this complicated moment in time.

Text Below by Michael Antonia

Supporting Excellence, Not Amazon…

It occurred to me while thinking about what to do about my own businesses, and how to help the companies my friends run during this crisis, that we are all guilty of prioritizing convenience over excellence, we all consider cost and selection, but what we trade for convenience and price will never create lasting value. Even the biggest companies in the world, are capable of excellence, but most big companies have compromised, cut corners, and traded their vision for profit and growth, and the only thing that remains is volume (cheap), a huge marketing budget, and an endless thirst for more profit at ANY COST!

Most small businesses, on the other hand, work tirelessly to put forward the absolute best service or product, for two big reasons:

#1) There is a lot of competition and noise in the world and cutting through that noise and consistently improving on the competition is a very expensive endeavour if you are not the best in your category.

#2) Standards must be higher if you consider your work your art, you can’t just manufacture in China, you can’t get food from a semi truck, you can’t sacrifice at every turn without getting your ass kicked in the marketplace, and you probably care more about the culture in your company than the bottom line.

But there is one more thing that drives artists to become champions of quality. It is a vision for the future that is beautiful and thoughtful alongside an ability to see a hole in the market, or to identify how the old guard is missing the mark and becoming antiquated. It is this passion or desire to be better that translates to “caring” in a way that the board rooms can’t as they really just aren’t built to use or even see beauty or really to perform any function other than growth. It isn’t evil, it’s just their only objective (artists are human, corporations are robotic).

So To My ACTUAL Point…

In these crazy last few days i have been going to GREAT lengths to try to support my friends with small local businesses that are very likely to fail in this disaster. Rather than going to one big box store for groceries when a lock down was imminent, I went to 5 different shops across town and bought a few items at each. This is how I normally live, I am a creature of habit that likes to take the extra time, and in turn get the extra special product and the hospitality that comes with it, to know the person behind the counter, and to know that the decisions made by the operators of the shops I frequent have our community and in most cases the environment in the front of their minds.

But, in a situation like this where we will be stuck primarily at home it struck me how challenging (and expensive) that approach was. I could have gone to one big grocery store and fought over the bread and toilet paper with everyone else and had my shopping done in less than an hour, and saved quite a bit of cash, but I took my money to my friends businesses only, and I will continue to do so until they are out of resources to stay open, or I am out of money.


Once this mess spits out all of the small businesses and artists we will be left in the cold dystopia of Trump’s vision of America. Left with only big box corporations all racing to the bottom toward the highest possible profit while sacrificing quality, workers, the middle class, and the environment, without a care in the world.

But I Think We Are Better Than That…

I started really digging into how I could be better moving forward, I started thinking about how often I thoughtlessly order something from amazon, or pick something up at whole foods, that I could have gotten at a small shop, or how many times I have gone to the movie theatre over an art museum. I have been thinking of some ways to create habits I am proud of, that teach my girls a way to live that supports the farmers, the hospitality industry, the artists, and the dreamers.

Here are a few ideas. working on more!


If you can only do one a month consider throwing this month’s support at your local restaurant – the smallest contribution is a big deal right now – and they may not be here next month without our help.  A lot of restaurants are selling produce, meat and dairy, and in some cases wine (which we all need!) consider getting supplies from them.

Just try for a few months to be part of your community, don’t support pop artists or national chains, buy books (at small book stores) instead of seeing big budget movies, consider a handmade product over a pair of Nikes or jeans.


Make a list of things that tourists do in your city that you have never done. Before Elizabeth and I moved to LA from NYC we spent our last month in New York going to museums, visiting the Statue of Liberty, eating at special restaurants we always meant to try, and ignoring the routine we were accustomed to. In LA we have world class museums, we have among the best restaurants in the world (at least at the time of writing) farmers markets everyday, and about a million unique little things to do that support small business owners.

For a while after this mess is over let’s all agree to avoid the Disney parks, the Targets and fast food restaurants, the Apple store and Gap, let’s shop at small shops for EVERYTHING, attend indie rock shows, go to galleries, hit the farmers market, avoid all online shopping, buy gift cards for friends and family from artists and promote our friends ONLY.

Ask at your favourite shops or restaurants which of their products are produced locally. Try for a whole week to only spend money on artists or business owners in your city.

It is hard to do (especially if this is a foreign concept to you) but give it some attention, maybe this will become a ritual for you and your family and this little experiment could be scalable, what if everyone who’s business was affected by coronavirus pledged to shop this way for even one month! This would eclipse the so-called small business stimulus that we all know isn’t coming from our careless self serving government (their bailout is going straight into the pockets of the big corps).

Find a few things that really matter to you – food, wine, books, whatever – and start there. We all have our budgets and constraints and we may not be able to move every line item to a higher quality, local option. But we can identify small things that matter to us that we choose to spend money on and we can be a little more intentional there. The effect is usually that habit forms not as a purchasing habit or decision making logic but as an intent that slowly bleeds into everything else.

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