No summer jobs this year? This 16-year-old Montrealer made her own

A few months ago, as the economic inertia of the pandemic hit, it would have been easy for Vanessa Vassalos to get discouraged.

Vanessa, who had just turned 16, knew that the idea of getting a normal summer job had gone out the window. Businesses were shutting down, and she'd even heard the building her grandfather owns on Parc Ave. was empty, her family unable to find a new commercial tenant.

And like most people, Vanessa, who wants to become a pediatrician, felt helpless to do anything useful amid the rising infection rates.

But she suddenly saw a way to kill several birds with one stone. She decided to open her own store in the empty space.

"I wanted to give myself a summer job, especially a meaningful one in this pandemic because I couldn't do much more," she said.

She opened her own pop-up shop selling personal protective equipment and has now been running it for a few months.

"I thought of starting my own business," she said.

At first it was "a little slow," she said, but she's gaining a clientele.

"People have been very supportive...coming in, supporting the cause," she said.

Because of her age, she's never there alone. An aunt or another adult is always there to keep an eye on things, and Vanessa's school friends have also been there to help out.

The shop sells masks, visors, gloves, various equipment that merchants need to set up their stores and restaurants for distancing, and Vanessa has also branched out into "technical devices like sterilizer wands and thermometers," she said.

Wanting to make the project useful in a bigger sense, she is donating some of the proceeds to the Montreal Children's Hospital.

Money aside, it's good experience for her, she said, since one day she hopes to run her own medical clinic.

Vanessa's grandfather is 96. When she asked him about using the space, he didn't quite understand at first what she wanted to do, she said. 

But then at one point he saw her on TV, explaining her store, and he understood what his new tenant was up to.

"He got very emotional. He started crying a bit," she said.

Vanessa will enter Grade 11 this fall.

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