Re: What shops and services would you like to see in your neighbourhood, April 13 issue.
It is not uncommon to be asked how I make it, having a store in Westboro. The rents must be so high, online sales must really cut into your business etc. And, of course, does anyone even write letters anymore?
Alyson Queen interviewed me for a piece in this paper. She asked if I thought opening a shop along Richmond Road is a viable idea. I thought it was a strange question to ask. I’ve been in business for six years and the store survived for nine years before that. So, yes! I do think a shop can open and stay afloat. In fact, I think a lot of the independents do just fine.
In fairness, I know the question stemmed from a recent thread on the KT Facebook page. The question asked there was, what do you want to see open in Westboro Village? A couple of people mentioned a bakery. Another person wanted to see a butcher open. I wondered if the people commenting knew about the delicious bread being made at Bridgehead and at The Piggy Market and Chez Francoise. I also thought about The Cupcake Lounge and Quelque Chose Macarons. Equator Coffeehouse usually has a pretty good choice of gluten-free options. While these are not your typical bakeries, they do have a lot of choices. As for the butcher, I wondered if the person commenting knows about The Piggy Market?
Back to the ongoing conversation in the shop: rent definitely factors in how well a business does. And Property Management companies, too. Those fees are pretty hefty. From what I know, rents vary wildly. Are landlords gouging their tenants? There was a time when this was my opinion. But I’ve reconsidered. I don’t know their business. Just like they don’t know mine. But maybe having a conversation about that would be a start. Maybe if landlords and property managers sat down with their tenants to talk about what they need to charge and what tenants can afford would be a start. It isn’t that radical an idea. I know someone who did this and it worked out for both parties.
Online sales definitely cut into the sales of bricks and mortar stores. It can be cheaper and easier to shop online. Sometimes your neighbourhood shop is priced a few bucks more than what you would pay online. But shopping local means we sometimes know your name or your size or that you bought that card last year for your wife. The point is, we get to know you in a way shopping online can’t. We often know what our neighbour is selling and we can help you tick off your grocery or to-do list on a busy Saturday.
Anyway, the point is this: yes. Independents can open and thrive along Richmond Road and beyond. But we all need to be on board with supporting the idea – this includes property owners and managers, consumers and even the City. Maybe the City should get the conversation going. Again, I don’t think this is such a radical idea. This summer our city will be flooded with tourists. I know when I visit a new place, I want to check out the cute little shops. I think it’s safe to say that we’ll be checked out this summer.
If we want a thriving community of shops and services then we need to put local on our list.
Molly van der Schee,
Owner of the Village Quire and Westboro resident