New roots: Wild Willy’s opens space down the street in Hintonburg

The new Wild Willy’s space at 1112 Somerset St. W. Photo by Maureen McEwan.

By Maureen McEwan

Wild Willy’s has called Kitchissippi home since 1975. For years, the plants and flowers shop served its customers from its location at 1252 Wellington St. W. 

This winter, the business uprooted, moving to a retail space in Hintonburg at 1112 Somerset St. W. 

“Our old location—[the] store—was there for 47 years. The building was sold and so we had to move by June and then the mattress store location in Hintonburg popped up,” said Vanessa Bishop, owner of Wild Willy’s. 

But, there were never plans for the business to move out of the area. 

“I always felt that Wild Willy’s was part of the community. It’s a staple of the Wellington West area,” Bishop said. 

“I knew we had to move eventually, but I definitely wanted to keep it here, so it’s great that we’re just down the street,” she added.

After a renovation of the space, the business opened at the new spot in March, with triple the retail space, Bishop estimated, adding that it now feels like they’ve been at this end of the neighbourhood “forever.”

“The move went seamless; it was amazing. It was kind of like we were meant to come down here.” 

“I’m loving the new space,” she added. “I’m loving the neighbours, the local businesses and the business owners and the community.”

Keeping it green at Wild Willy’s. Photo by Maureen McEwan.

At its former location, Wild Willy’s had customers visit for decades. Some had families, raising generations of plant enthusiasts. 

When they moved, Bishop said they were surprised to learn that a majority of their customers actually live closer to the new spot. 

“Seventy-five per cent of our clientele live down here which we didn’t know,” she said.

Having taken the business over in 2014, Bishop is the third owner of Wild Willy’s and has had a lifelong passion for plants and flowers. 

“I’ve been picking flowers since I was little,” she said, laughing. “I actually have a picture from being at the cottage in a flannel nightgown and rubber boots picking wildflowers.”

“I would pick flowers and make my own little arrangements,” she added. 

She then went on to work at a flower shop as a teenager.  

“Work-wise, my first job was [at] a flower shop in the Montreal area on the south shore called ‘Smith Flowers.’ So that was my first experience in the floral industry. I worked there for a couple years while I finished high school.” 

Bouquets and bouquets! Photo by Maureen McEwan.

Bishop graduated from a landscape horticulture program out east, later was certified as a florist at the Canadian Institute of Floral Design and worked in the industry before becoming owner at Wild Willy’s. 

“Gardening, plants—it’s something that you learn. It’s like cooking; you just learn as you go,” she said. “I don’t call myself an expert at all: I’m still learning all the time. I’m just very lucky to be in this industry because we’re blessed with so many plants and flowers.” 

Throughout the pandemic, Bishop said they saw a demand for plants for home offices and living spaces, as they can make “a huge difference in any space.” Customers sent many flowers to family and friends out of care and concern and they still celebrated every occasion and holiday. 

“I think people might even appreciate plants and flowers more because it’s forced people to take the time and be still, not running around here and there,” Bishop said.

Wild Willy’s did not shut its doors during the pandemic—offering online sales and curbside pick ups during lockdowns—which Bishop credits as the reason the business managed COVID-19’s waves.  

“We never closed, actually, during the whole thing. That was a blessing in disguise,” she said.

“If I had closed in the beginning, I don’t think I’d be where I am today,” she added. 

This spring, things are getting back to normal for the business; Bishop said it was almost back to a “regular Easter” for them. With Mother’s Day on the horizon, Wild Willy’s is preparing for another busy retail season.

“It can get really busy and I’m still trying to figure out our space. [We] have lots of different departments in the store—we have online sales, walk-in sales, and plants and flowers and arrangements,” she said. “So, there’s a lot to juggle.” 

Pansies are hardy and can tolerate cold weather. Photo by Maureen McEwan.

If you are looking for Mother’s Day gift ideas, Bishop has a suggestion. 

“Right now, it’s a great time to purchase some pansies because they can tolerate cold weather, even snow.”

She advises locals not to start on outdoor gardening too early—by hanging flower baskets or planting garden beds—even if warm, spring days arrive before the May long weekend. 

“Make sure you don’t plant them until after the last frost!” Bishop said. 

But with pansies, there’s no issue.

“[With] pansies you can, which is great—that’s the great thing about this time of year,” she said. “You get lots of different colours with pansies, and also, if you put them in your garden and you don’t put any pesticides on them, you can actually use them as an edible flower.” 

Stop by for more on keeping it green. 

The new Wild Willy’s space at 1112 Somerset St. W.

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