Opinion: The story of an entrepreneur in Kitchissippi

Special to KT by Crystal Beshara –

“See a need fill a need.”

“If you build it they will come.”

The Studio Café & Gallery which opened in May of this year in Hintonburg was built on those two adages.

Over the last few years, in my travels as an artist, teacher, business owner (and wannabe interior designer), I’ve observed a shift in trends in the service industry and leisure spaces. Singular function businesses are becoming a thing of the past, people are staying closer to home or looking for a home away from home – a comfortable, familiar local spot to hang out and chat or participate in an activity like making art with your child or getting a group of girlfriends together to drink wine and paint. Corporate work, meetings and networking are taking place outside of the office and boardroom. The economy and template of the often intimidating austerity of the traditional gallery is waning. That the multitude of cookie cutter laminated coffee shops where overcaffeinated patrons shakily step away from their laptops only to order up their next espresso is not enough for some. There is a return to the art of a great cup of coffee as well as the art of great conversation.

Crystal Beshara is the owner of the Studio Café & Gallery. She’s urging Kitchissippi residents to support small businesses. Photo by Mauricio Ortiz.
Crystal Beshara is the owner of the Studio Café & Gallery. She’s urging Kitchissippi residents to support small businesses. Photo by Mauricio Ortiz.

Why not create a space like this in Ottawa?

This was the premise for The Studio Café. To create a micro arts community space in the nation’s capital that fused artist studios with working artists, professionals, designers, writers, architects and performers where they could commune over coffee in a beautiful, well designed, light filled space – different from the small, glum basement studios and abandoned warehouses.

Sure there are many pubs that fill that gap, but as a mother I wanted to do this outside of a bar scene making it possible for youth to feel welcome; classes for teens, classes for parent and child, inclusive groups that bridge the gap and unify artists of all disciplines and ages.

I hadn’t realized at the time, but a stranger (now friend) told me what I was creating was Ottawa’s first THIRD PLACE a term coined by American Urban Sociologist Ray Oldenburg. He states:

“Third places, then, are anchors of community life and facilitate and foster broader, more creative interaction. All societies already have informal meeting places; what is new in modern times is the intentionality of seeking them out as vital to current societal needs.” (The Great Good Place Da Capo Press, August 1999)

Real experiences. We as a society are hungry for this. And it worked. For 8 months.

With so much community support pouring in I was off to a great start. I discovered hundreds of talented savvy entrepreneurs, who were curious, invigorated, inspired by this concept and willing to help and participate. Our comment book was filled with uplifting sentiments, and classes were filling up to the point of waiting lists.

Sadly, it was not enough. Although classes were picking up and word was getting out, once my coffee retailer left, the overhead became too much for me to carry on my own. I’m an artist, not a mathematician but it wasn’t long before the simple economy of the space became too much to bear.

The reality is, doing business in Ottawa is expensive. The cost of leasing commercial or retail space in Ottawa is prohibitive. Parking restrictions make it difficult and sometimes impossible to take classes of any kind. Imagine leaving in the middle of your yoga session just to go move your car from its 1-hour zone, or coming out of a blissful art class, canvas in hand only to find a $50 parking ticket on your windshield. With a poor infrastructure and high costs, patrons and business owners are easily discouraged or scared off. They close, they go bankrupt, they move cities or don’t even try at all.

Minister of Finance Maxime Bernier said:

“The determination and innovative spirit of Canada’s small business owners are what drive our economy forward. Small businesses make up 98 percent of all companies in Canada, employ nearly 70 percent of the private sector labour force and contribute about 40 percent to the gross domestic product.” (Oct. 20, 2013)

However finding funding, start up grants or financial support for small business is nearly impossible. Rent control, rental relief or subsidies, seeking out private backers and investors to keep it up-and-running is a very different story. As in my case, I finally found some leads a little too late. The media, too, seems to be all over business when it opens and then when it closes… what small business really need, is sustenance through those precarious middle months or years.

Kitchissippi has been very kind to me. West Wellington BIA is amazing, the business around me supported me and pushed and encouraged me all the way. I could not have gone this far without you. I thank you. I had no idea how this concept would be received and what would happen, but my world is bigger and brighter knowing you. I am in awe and inspired by your generosity and incredible determination.

As customers we need to get out there, join in and support small business – not just click a “LIKE” button. Participate, bring friends, be part of a real experience.

Look around you today. Who have you been meaning to check out? You can make a difference. You might BE the difference.

Above all we need the infrastructure to make it easier for entrepreneurs to take chances, raise the bar and give a new business not just a fighting chance, but protect and nurture them throughout those first few months and hopefully years. For so many their “small” business is not just a first, second or third place – it is their life and contributes to the enriching of other lives within a community.

Crystal Beshara is an award-winning artist, illustrator and writer. She teaches workshops abroad as well as in her home studio in Ottawa. Her show “Life on the Rock” will be at The Studio Café until Nov. 25. An inventory clearance party will be taking place Nov. 22 and 23 from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. For more information go to crystalbeshara.com.

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