It was with a painful irony that Natalie Jenner opened her e-mail a few weeks ago to find a request from famed cartoonist Bob Eckstein to visit her Oakville bookstore.
She'd admired his illustrations of other stores in his book Footnotes from the World's Greatest Bookstores and was honoured that he'd heard of Archetype, her tiny shop in a red-brick building on a laneway off Lakeshore Road.
For eight months, Ms. Jenner had peered into the window of the former jewellery store, imagining the possibilities. She and her husband, Rob, opened in December, 2015.
Just 10 months later, he was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis – the same disease that killed his mother and aunt.
Facing a grim diagnosis – doctors told them that Rob, in his 50s, may have less than five years to live without a transplant – they made the decision to close the store in the same week that Mr. Eckstein's e-mail arrived.
On the other end of the story, Mr. Eckstein had heard about Archetype from a young Burlington couple who came to his book signing in Manhattan. They had picked up their copy at Ms. Jenner's store and praised its charms.
"Bob's ears perked up like the good journalist-reporter type he is," said Ms. Jenner, who wrote back to tell him of their situation.
With a second job at a law firm in Toronto, a teenage daughter and an uncertain future for her husband, she knew she had to give up her entrepreneurial dream. "I remember thinking: I think he'll understand."
But she didn't expect his response.
"I was heartbroken," Mr. Eckstein said.
"Her husband is the same age I am, and I'd gone through a kind of cancer scare myself earlier this year. I'd been through biopsies and MRIs and this whole process, which was so unsettling and upsetting."
He asked if he could do anything to raise the profile of the shop and keep it alive. His friends offered medical advice, donations and stories of hope. To cheer Ms. Jenner up, he floated the idea of an illustration: Mr. Eckstein has long worked as an editorial cartoonist for The New Yorker and has a distinct style and an arsenal of bookshop drawings.
Ms. Jenner leapt at the chance, electing to use the illustration not for advertising but as a pre-Christmas gift to her husband. "It was the first time I'd seen him happy in a really long time," she said, tearing up and pausing before continuing the story. "It's just been a very affirming experience."
She also made as many copies as she could to distribute to customers and bibliophiles in the store's final weeks.
"Here's the best thing: I got to tell the hundreds of people this story, so many people that have loved our store, and got to say: Look, here's the good part," she said. "To have Bob do this, it gave everyone around here a feeling that something was built that would last, in some small way."
According to Mr. Eckstein, a visual will always bring readers into a story. "And," he added happily, "you never know where help can come from."