After being stuck at home for days straight during the intense lockdown, people start to look at the world differently. You begin to notice things outside that you didn’t before, start to realize that keeping yourself entertained and excited is more challenging than it once was and that having a companion at meals can be pretty significant.
But one day, the loneliness and boredom from the lockdown struck inspiration and creativity. And after one inspiring morning, 43-year-old Rick Kalinowski came up with a fun, friendly, and engaging way to social distance with one of the most common animals in America—the squirrel.
Little did he know, though, that his tiny creation would soon become an insanely big sensation around the world.
Cheery Cute Backyard Squirrels
Depending on where you live, most of us in the U.S. are used to seeing little squirrels running around between trees in our backyards. And being from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Rick Kalinowski was used to seeing his cheery and cute backyard squirrels out and about playing almost every day.
But it wouldn’t be until he was stuck at home, without any work, for days straight during the intense lockdown of Spring 2020, that Rick would see and start to treat these cute critters in a completely different way.
No Toilet Paper, and No Work
In west Philadelphia, born and raised, working as an HVAC and plumbing contractor in the area of Bryn Mawr was how Rick spent most of his days.
And although people were tearing down the stores, looking for the last rolls of toilet paper to purchase during the first couple of weeks of lockdown, the 43-year-old plumber seemed to be entirely out of work.
But instead of feeling down in the dumps about this hardship, he turned to the outside world for some comfort.
Bebo the Squirrel
Rick always had a special place in his heart for squirrels and enjoyed the fact that he could watch them cheerfully play almost every day as he sipped on his warm morning coffee.
A few years ago, he even adopted an orphan squirrel that he found on the side of the street.
Rick named the little guy “Bebo” and cautiously raised him for a year and a half before he felt like Bebo was ready to be released back into the wild on his own. How heart-warming!
Emerging from Hibernation and Entering Lockdown
The quarantine and lockdown in the early months of 2020 had a wild effect on anyone who had to stay at home and on the environment and wildlife outside.
While many of us were stuck at home going stir-crazy, there were all kinds of cute little animals who emerged from hibernation and woke up to a change of scenery.
Can you imagine their surprise about the whole situation, and how the streets and areas were free of people for weeks at a time? Talk about the wild!
Spoiling the Cute Outdoor Critters
From wandering around in the middle of the open road, to reach the ocean shore for a quick dip in the water, all sorts of wondrous wildlife were able to explore the world in ways that they haven’t been able to in decades.
However, Rick’s backyard’s squirrels seemed to be out and about just as they usually would, which seemed to be a good sign. Still, though, Rick would leave out some seeds and nuts for both the squirrels and the birds to enjoy and feel welcome to come on back to his backyard with ease and comfort.
When the Innovative Wheels Started Turning
One of the most significant parts about the almost never-ending lockdown is that the restrictions of staying home-bound for weeks also got the innovative wheels turning for many people—including Rick.
With this spare time on his hands, he knew it was important to stay busy and lively until all of the pandemic’s medicinal madness would settle down and blow over.
So one morning, after enjoying his deliciously brewed cup of Joe with the company of his cute critters by the window, an idea popped into his head.
Something Special for the Squirrels
At first, Rick had just laid the little treats for his cute critter friends on the ground, which seemed good enough for the squirrels. But he quickly recalled seeing something in the past that would take his squirrels eating experience to the next level. With all this free time on his hands, he got to tinkering in his garage and started building something special for the cute little squirrels in the backyard.
Little did he know that this tiny creature would soon become an insanely big sensation.
Enhancing Their Dining Experience
Day after day, Rick looked forward to sharing his meals with his outdoor friends. However, he decided to spice things up and built a remarkable, adorable little gadget that would help the squirrels enjoy the treats Rick would leave for them.
Rick started to put together a fun-sized outdoor picnic table for the squirrels to dine at during their meals with some spare wood in his workshop. Talk about adorable!
But that wasn’t all that Rick had planned for them.
A Customized Table with a View
Sure, eating off the green grass doesn’t seem like that bad for squirrels. But why eat off the floor when you could dine out on a customized table?
Rick made sure to place the table in direct eye-line from his kitchen table so that he would be able to enjoy the cute little squirrels eating, just as much as they would want their brand-new table and his company from a distance.
This theory and idea seemed all fine and dandy, but was it something going to work?
Fixed to the Fence
There’s nothing like miniature sized furniture to put a smile on your face. Nobody can explain it, but anything tiny is just down-right adorable. Right?
However, Rick didn’t just make a squirrel-sized picnic table for his entertainment. He constructed a functional eating area for the squirrels themselves to use.
Not only did Rick build this entire picnic table for his outdoor critters to sit by from scratch, but he even nailed it to his fence for their convenience! This way, they would hop on the bench from the top edge of the wall with ease.
Was the Table a Failing Flop or Soaring Success?
This idea sounded oh-so-precious and heart-warming in theory. But the ultimate question comes down to, did the squirrels use the table?
It turns out that his creation was a soaring success! As soon as Rick set out some food on his custom-made contraption, the squirrels were quick to take a seat and enjoy an outdoor dining experience in Rick’s backyard.
Without hesitation, Rick took some pictures and videos and shared them on social media for his friends and family to enjoy this adorable, entertaining, and proud moment.
“All About Squirrels”
Building something on your own from scratch is an accomplishment in and of itself. So the fact that Rick’s cute little idea was a massive hit with the squirrels was that much more exciting.
The squirrel-loving plumber decided to post the pictures on one of his favorite Facebook pages, “All About Squirrels,” to share with other squirrel fans. Little did he know that this post was about to spread across the world faster than a squirrel can sprint across the yard.
But it was what happened after the post went viral that indeed left Rick speechless.
Lucy Small’s Share
Rick’s post was slowly making some noise in his community. Still, it was one unique Facebook and Twitter user that genuinely made a difference in the popularity of Rick’s cute and creative idea.
On March 31, 2020, Lucy Small, a local Floridian woman with 30,000 Twitter followers, shared one of Rick’s picnic pictures on her social media accounts with the caption: “2 weeks of isolation and we’re out here making picnic tables for squirrels because we’re insane.”
Overnight, Rick’s post reached millions of people. “I went about my day … I was having dinner, and my husband was like, ‘Do you realize that photo has over 200,000 shares?’ I had no idea,” Rick shared with Washington Post.
Doubling in Two Weeks
Within two weeks, the post had double the shares! “It has 400,000 likes, 77,000 retweets, and over 3,000 comments. I think you never know what’s actually going to be a hit or when. I fully think the same tweet a day later or earlier wouldn’t have caught on,” Lucy shared with Washington Post about two weeks after she posted the photo. How insane!
Rick was surprised enough by how much attention and traffic his post had gotten, especially after Lucy’s post. But even after Lucy helped jumpstart the traffic, this particular social media user also inspired Rick to take things to the next level, especially after his post’s attention.
Creating Customized Tables for Customers
Lucy had seen Rick’s photos in a private group for mothers. Still, as soon as Rick’s aunt had contacted Lucy about the post, Lucy immediately reached back out and eagerly tweeted the following days about contacting Rick for further details on the table.
As soon as people got a hold of Rick online, the messages just kept on coming. “People on Facebook were saying, ‘I’d love one. Can you make me one?’…I said, ‘Sure, I’ll make you one,’” Rick explained.
Although Rick didn’t invent this adorable little picnic table, he constructed and designed it all on his own from scratch. After accepting one order, he got another, and another, and another. Before Rick knew it, he had received 1,000 picnic table orders!
It looks like Rick wasn’t the only one who was interested in providing a welcoming home for the wondrous wildlife in their yards. That’s right; people weren’t just entertained by the video and pictures Rick posted of the adorable squirrels dining in his backyard—they wanted to experience the same joy in person, too!
“Now’s the Time for Just the Most Ridiculous Things”
Lucy Smalls has the experience and works in marketing, meaning she also knows all the ins and outs of social media. “A good viral post is a right thing at the right time … I think now is the time for just the most ridiculous things,” Lucy revealed.
Who would’ve thought that this side passion project that started from boredom during lockdown would turn out to be something so popular and admired by people around the globe? Can you imagine how thrilled Rick was to know that people were excited about something he was excited about too?
Supporting Each Other During Tough Times
Lucy and Rick had never met, and they lived on opposite ends of the country. Not just that, but Lucy didn’t even have a picnic table of her own! She was just excited about the whole idea and thought the concept was endearing.
“I live in Florida, where we don’t see a lot of squirrels … All it would attract are lizards and rats, and I don’t want any of those,” Lucy humorously remarked.
However, this didn’t stop Lucy from supporting Rick anyway that she could. After all, this pandemic has shown us that we’re all in this together. Right?
A Two-Man Job
This quickly became a two-person job, and Rick’s loving and supportive husband, Brett, got to work, too. Rick and Brett started with a business plan for producing picnic tables to ship off to all of these potential customers interested in purchasing squirrel-sized picnic tables for themselves.
While Rick eagerly focused on the production and execution part of the business, Brett excitingly stepped in and helped out with the marketing and communications side of it all.
Little did they know that this was just the start.
Squirrelly Treasure Co.
Within a few days, Rick and Brett had a whole new business up and running. Brett opened up an LLC under the name Squirrelly Treasure Co. for Rick’s precious pandemic business venture.
As soon as they got orders, Rick eagerly was out and about purchasing all of the needed supplies from dollar stores within an hour’s drive radius of his place, and other wood from Home Depot.
And while Rick was on the hunt for supplies and making the product, Brett worked on building the Etsy site and Instagram account of their innovative and super cute squirrel picnic table product.
But that’s not all the business had to offer!
A New Full-Time Job
Rick might’ve been short for work when it came to plumbing, but it looked like he found himself a whole new job to keep him occupied during the lockdown.
“I’m doing this full time in my basement,” Rick confessed. Rick came up with another ingenious idea for the dynamic duo to keep up with the high demand for all these picnic table orders.
Squirrelly Treasure Co. didn’t just sell you picnic tables; they also had fun DIY kits for you to build, as well as joyously!
Different Picnic Packages
The power couple had a real business going within days, and Rick was excitedly making super cute hand-made squirrel wooden picnic tables with mini red solo cup “bowls” to place food in for the critters.
While a finished table sold for $35, they also included an option to upgrade to cedarwood for $10. How fun!
The special DIY kits, which came equipped with supplies and an instruction manual, were only $15, and the plans themselves were up for purchase for a sweet $7. At the end of the day, though, none of this started with money in mind.
“I’m Just Enjoying All the Joy I’m Bringing to Everybody”
“People were so lost with life, stuck in their homes with their children, not knowing what to do,” Rick shared when talking about the lockdown.
Not only was his picnic tables and DIY packs an affordable price, but this was such a great way to keep people’s spirits up during the pandemic.
“I’m just enjoying all the joy I’m bringing to everybody in this terrible time,” Rick emotionally revealed.
While it was great that he found a way to make an income off of this passion project, this whole adventure started with his love for animals.
Making Time to Stop and Smell the Coffee
While it’s been such an adventure to take on a spontaneous and successful project like this, Rick still makes sure to leave some time to stop and smell the roses—or should we say coffee.
“I still get up every morning and feed the squirrels and sit with a coffee looking out at them eating,” Rick revealed. How inspiring and heart-warming!
Funny enough, nuts and seeds aren’t the only things that Rick has left for the super adorable squirrely critters at their table.
When it comes to interacting with any form of wildlife—whether it’s something as small as a squirrel or as big as a stray dog—it’s always important to be precautious and only engage with them if you’re trained and knowledgeable on how to treat and feed them.
And even though Rick had fostered a little squirrel years before, he still knows to social distance with the squirrels in a safe manner.
With that said, though, on April 21, 2020, Rick posted a video on Facebook of the table with two cupcakes on it for the squirrels to tinker with. The caption humorously read as, “Sure, it’s my birthday.” How sweet!
“I Appreciate Them, and They Appreciate Me”
With all of the uncertainty, the solitude, and the misfortunes of unemployment, it’s easy to get down during the more challenging days of lockdown. But if anything, Rick has shown us that putting your mind and heart into simple side passion projects can go along way—whether you go viral or not.
Rick was so appreciative that he could find joy by building the picnic table, providing them for others to enjoy, but most importantly, providing a fun little interactive invention for the squirrels to enjoy, too.
“I really believe they love it… I appreciate them, and they appreciate me,” Rick revealed to The Dodo.