Pitney Bowes is the newest member of the Roberts Street Social Centre.
On a frigid Sunday afternoon, she sits against the drafty northeastern wall of the Anchor Zine Library, the front room of the red clapboard house that is the Centre. Her smooth, jet-black face and grey, white and pink striped body seem out of place in a room held up by hodgepodge carpentry and hung with the scraps of a hundred sewing projects.
She is demure, emitting only the occasional whir, hum and chunka, chunka, chunka. But Capp Larsen will have none of her shyness. “Who would like to do a photocopier challenge?” she asks the cramped room of seven people. With her big, freckled fortressed smile, who could refuse?
On Feb. 12, Larsen is hosting the Photocopier Launch Party and Bowes is the woman of the hour. During the Centre’s three open hours, visitors will squeeze between the rows of alphabetized and categorized zines just to see this Pitney Bowes Sharp MX-2600N photocopier in action.
“Long Live the People’s Photocopier” reads a crayoned sign next to Bowes. At four cents per black and white copy and 20 cents for colour, it offers a deal otherwise unheard of in the city. The Centre, too, is an anomaly in Halifax: a not-for-profit organization that aims to provide free or affordable services for alternative media, art and education.
But an eviction notice dealt to the Centre in December means that Larsen will have to pack up Bowes and all the do-it-yourself creativity 5684 Roberts Street is home to and relocate before May 1.
The news came of little surprise to the Centre’s Collective, but predictability did not make it any easier to digest.
“It drove home this kind of feeling of powerlessness that comes with being a tenant,” says Larsen three days prior to the Photocopier Launch Party. Six Collective members have convened at Jill Ratcliffe’s house for yet another discussion of the Centre’s future. In the living room, they form a circle of varying heights and curled up positions: some on the floor, some on mismatched brocade chairs, three on a floral printed couch.
“I think this,” Ratcliffe motions to the group, “is the demographic of the community it serves.” She stumbles on her words, trying to explain how the Centre doesn’t serve other people, but that its regulars have become the Centre itself and the Centre, a part of their daily lives.
Over seven years, the Collective has rebuilt the Centre to suit their needs. From repairing the roof, to doing all the electrical and plumbing work themselves, the Collective has transformed the space from a house to a home.
“We don’t live in a world where the notions of building a home is supported. We live in a world where housing is commodified,” says Jean Steinberg. “It’s really hard to find a place where any of us can set down our roots.”
Larsen was evicted from her house a few years ago when condominiums were slated to replace the building. Around the circle, everyone has a real estate war story. The concern is that with rising rents in Halifax, Collective members will eventually be unable to afford living in the same neighbourhood as the Centre.
“I really feel like underground those streets there's all these sharks that are circling,” says Larsen of development on Roberts Street as she narrows her eyes and makes swimming motions with her hands. “They're just under there waiting to jump up with their big teeth and swallow it all … it leaves very little opportunity for people who aren't interested in large-scale building, who aren't interested in profit, who are actually interesting in living there and working there and creating there.”
The Collective has appealed to its users for financial donations and suggestions as to where to move. For the Collective, to consider the Centre closing May 1 is out of the question.
But the Centre’s space requirements are demanding. It must house a kitchen; the library; the Ink Storm Screenprinting Collective studio; the Crow’s Nest rentable room; a space for summer residents; and, of course, the People’s Photocopier.
At the Launch Party, people are nibbling on a heart-shaped coconut cake decorated with raisins reading “PPC” as Daft Punk’s “Technologic,” one track off a photocopier playlist, is thumping in the background.
Larsen mesmerizes visitors as she conducts a photocopier tutorial. Exclamations of excitement follow every explanation. There’s the sense that for these ‘zinesters’, Bowes will change everything.
“There’s an air of possibility,” says Larsen. “Actually, even the whole move I think carries that air of possibility and opportunity. With crisis comes opportunity and, so, the idea of moving, as heartbreaking as it is in some ways, can be a really good sign of new horizons.”
The Ink Storm Screenprinting Collective studio and Anchor Zine Library conduct their open hours on Sundays from 2pm-5pm and Tuesdays from 6pm-8pm.