By Yose Cormier
Brad Green is adamant: maps are not old-fashioned and out-of-date.
On the contrary, he says. And the fact that World of Maps, which Green and his partner of 40 years, Petra Thoms, owns, celebrated 25 years in business is a testament to that.
“There’s a misconception around what we do, and we even get that from our customers. We get some coming in and saying they are old fashioned for wanting maps, but that’s not true. It’s smart, intelligent. Our customers embrace technology. They aren’t fuddy duddies!” says Green.
And Green and Thoms also embraced technology right from the get-go and have never looked back.
“When we opened in the early 1990s, emails were just starting, the web was just starting. But within two months, with help from a neighbour, we had our catalogue online and people could download our inventory. We had customers from all over the world, thanks to the Internet,” says Thoms.
While internet mapping has exploded, it hasn’t decreased demand for “proper detailed maps and books.”
“Our customers come in with a Google map on their phones and they want it enlarged because it’s too small. Or they want a detailed map of the lake where their cottage is, or a place they are planning on visiting,” says Green.
Thoms notes that custom-made maps – printed, mounted and framed in store – are a big part of their business. They even take online requests, from people all over the world, for specific geographical areas.
Green credits their longevity for providing a product that people are passionate about, but also for constantly adapting, both to customer needs and to technology.
“About 10 years ago, people were asking why don’t we sell flags. We had never thought about that, but we started with small flags and we slowly grew that part of the business. Now many people know us as the flag shop, too.”
The most rewarding part for the couple is meeting the interesting people who walk into the store and share their stories.
“We are very thankful because we are part of their adventure because we help them plan for their trip,” says Thoms. “We share their enthusiasm for where they are going to go. We get a buzz off of that and feed off their enthusiasm.”
They are also enablers in some ways as well.
“We get many people who come in and are hesitant about taking long trips. We tell them to just go. The hardest part is the first step, but then the experience of travel is so rewarding.”
Green likens the store to an independent bookstore. And in fact, they offer a curated list of interest books, from international politics, adventure, science, geography, humor. But they are all linked to travel.
A walk through the store is a testament to their love of travel. Everything is related to “worldly things” in one way or another. There are travel books on a series of shelves, flags in one corner and maps of all kinds on seemingly every wall. There’s even a kids section.
The couple’s story is one tied to travel and adventure. Green, originally from Calgary, and Thoms, from the Netherlands, met while travelling 40 years ago. Then 25 years ago, as they were finishing a year-long, round-the-world adventure with their 13-year-old daughter, they decided to see what Ottawa had to offer.
With few job opportunities to be found, the couple decided to open a store, and focused on what they loved: travel and adventure.
“We knew this would succeed because we travelled and we used the products. But when people walked in and they said they love maps and they were enthusiastic, we knew we were in the right place. We knew we were onto something,” says Thoms.
Their first store was located at 188 Holland Street, but they moved to the corner of Holland and Wellington when the building they were in was converted into condos.
Four years ago, they moved again, to a larger building on Wellington Street West, where they now employ five staff members.
Green and Thoms have seen the area grow and change since they opened, especially over the last 10-15 years.
“I think, partly because of the BIA, this area has changed into a real neighbourhood. If you go to other places in Ottawa, and even elsewhere in Canada, people know Wellington Street as a happening place. Sure, there’s lots of traffic now, but it’s manageable, especially compared to other parts of the world. And where can you find free parking right in front of stores these days?”
The couple note there are lots of “cool things happening in the neighbourhood”, and they are glad to be part of that.
Green and Thoms realize they may not be part of the store in 25 years – “I hope not” says Thoms with a laugh. But they do plan on celebrating their 35-year anniversary, and they don’t see anything getting in the way of that.