Anyone looking to maintain some semblance of a social life this winter will likely have to re-embrace Zoom happy hours. But they don’t have to be as awkward as the first go-around: a surge of new brands are offering custom gift boxes and virtual experiences that are actually fun–and will help you connect with friends and colleagues from afar. Here are a few of our favorites.
A customizable treat
The Penny Paper Co. is a local boutique design studio that’s been around since 2004, producing a line of colourful and trendy knickknacks including stationery, keychains, party supplies and home decor. They recently launched their build-a-gift service, where shoppers can select a mix of special treats that will be delivered right to the door of a lucky friend. The website is organized into themes (birthday boxes, pampering boxes, Christmas boxes), and shoppers can stuff their boxes with as many additional party favours as they want. For instance, a birthday box could include confetti, rainbow birthday candles, dipped balloons, a mini pinball game, party horns and a bath bomb. Boxes are topped off with a variety of retro confections like giant carnival lollipops, Nerds or Ring Pops and an appropriate card, which is hand-written from someone on the Penny Paper Co. team. Prices are labelled per item, so there are no surprises when you go to check out.
A virtual paint night
Pre-Covid, Paint Cabin was a licensed Leslieville bar, with 40 stations for wannabe artists to sip cocktails and channel their inner Van Gogh. They’ve recently started offering up the experience virtually, letting participants book into an online class led by one of their instructors. Once booked, they’ll receive all the necessary materials to re-create an image or scene of choice in a kit delivered directly to their door (along with any wine, beer or pre-mixed cocktails added into the order). Inside, there will be a choice of canvas, a canvas stand, brushes, rags and hand-mixed acrylic paints customized to your taste and selected image. The classes are over Zoom or Google Hangouts, and a Paint Cabin host will instruct everyone on techniques and provide entertaining commentary along the way. Individual tickets are $49 each.
Raised80s was started by a trio of neighbourhood friends who wanted to safely bring local small businesses and connection-starved Torontonians together during the pandemic. The idea was conceived with corporate team bonding in mind, and their team will work with you to design a customized box and coordinate with event partners to plan the event via Zoom. They’ve partnered with local restaurants, wellness studios, gaming companies and influencers to create fun-filled packages to unbox as a group at the start of the event. There’s a virtual yoga experience with Beaches Hot Yoga, where participants receive a gift box with a new mat, yoga towel, essential oils and complimentary online passes, and have an instructor guide the group in a live class. Or, you can opt for a mixology session with one of the city’s top bartenders teaching your happy hour crew the art of making the perfect negroni (or three).
A virtual team-building activity
Since Covid, this tech platform founded five years ago in Toronto as a corporate meal plan marketplace, has re-branded as Thriver to offer a broader range of experiences and activities designed to improve employee engagement while stuck at home. Employers can identify goals they’re looking to improve (like supporting employees dealing with anxiety), and choose from a range of virtual activities designed to address those targets. Employees then vote on activities they’re interested in and the company partners with local businesses to lead Zoom events. Some popular options include mixology sessions with a local bartender, where each participant receives a personalized cocktail kit delivered to their door, or a virtual escape room, where participants are led through a series of challenges and quizzes. Events start at $25 per person.
A baby shower bonanza
Love Eddi was recently launched by two new Toronto moms who wanted to provide an easy option for thoughtful, curated gifts t
hat parents would actually use. Their lineup of baby gift boxes are filled with cute and practical items from their favourite local baby brands. Their Hello Charlie box, for instance, includes a hooded towel from Pehr, a silicon bib and bunny teether from LouLou Lollipop and a scrunchie for mom from Chelsea King. This one costs $115 and they all come in a chic branded cardboard box with a canvas tote and personalized message. They currently also have a few birthday and holiday boxes stuffed with playful decorations.