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What’s old is new again

The many personalities of the Dayles Grand Market that make it a great experience to go to are: Bottom from the left Jennifer Kants and Norm (Beans and Cocoa toys and gifts), Charlene MacDonald  (Crystal Cafe), and Kathy Legere (Copper Tree Boutique). Upper row from the left: Karen McKinnon (Maritime Mosaic), Deborah McConnell ( Not to Shabby And More) and Hal Davidson ( HD Coins and Collectibles).
The many personalities of the Dayles Grand Market that make it a great experience to go to are: Bottom from the left Jennifer Kants and Norm (Beans and Cocoa toys and gifts), Charlene MacDonald (Crystal Cafe), and Kathy Legere (Copper Tree Boutique). Upper row from the left: Karen McKinnon (Maritime Mosaic), Deborah McConnell ( Not to Shabby And More) and Hal Davidson ( HD Coins and Collectibles).

Business owners creating the world they want to work in

Editor's Note: Second life. It can represent a chance to do over. To reset and refocus your life. To shake off the past and give yourself an opportunity to change and grow. In our series, Second Life, we took a look at how those in the small business world, out of necessity or desire, reach beyond their comfort zones to re-create themselves and their world. These stories celebrate those who saw potential in being something else or creating something that wasn’t and were brave enough to take the plunge into the deep, dark waters of entrepreneurship.

There was something suspicious about the young man.
His attention went from the shelves to the exit behind him; too distracted to notice the ring, ding and vibration of the cellphones going off around him.  
Soon, it seemed everyone looked up from their devices and stared at the man.
Unable to shake the deafening stares, the young man made his exit – the floor creaking underfoot with each step.
“We take care of our own here,” a fiery redhead with dark rimmed glasses and arm length tattoos says with a giggle.
Looking around, everyone else is having a chuckle too.
Karen MacKinnon, the fiery redhead and ipso-facto matriarch of the gang, sent a private Facebook message to the vendors’ group page when her sixth-sense worried her about the young man lingering just a little too long between some unprotected merchandise and the exit.
It’s just one way they use social media to help their tiny community of independent businesses. From discussing who is working the next day, to cracking jokes or just keeping up with each other, the group page has created a sense of family among these venders at Dayle’s Grand Market in downtown Amherst where a new economy is being built in plain sight.
The vendors – inside what once was a leading clothing and general merchandise store in the border community – are redefining the definition of success. There is no board of directors demanding double profit margins for shareholders or talk of contracting production overseas. Success is happiness … and not going hungry.
And, yes, they can have both.

Karen MacKinnon
At one time it seemed like nothing was going right for Karen.
A collection of follies and lessons learned in Ontario found her and her partner back in Nova Scotia, unemployed with two children to support.
She came to what she called her ‘sink or swim’ moment in life.
“For me it was, well, what am I going to do? I can’t not support my kids. I have to support my kids,” she said. “I didn’t want to work in a call centre – not that there’s anything wrong with working in a call centre – but I knew that I had more to give than being behind a telephone.”
What Karen had was an ability to nurture ideas – not exactly an off-the-shelf business startup model, but it was something she could channel.  
Karen decided to try something very different. She found downtown retail space, and then rented out small pockets of it to local artisans starting at $50 a month. Artisans stock their own shelves and keep their profits. Karen handles the overhead costs like registering the business, staffing and paying for the debit machine, while the vendors got the collective rewards.
Fittingly, she calls her business Maritime Mosaic and it was not a difficult sell with area artisans.  
“I only placed one ad when I first opened and since then it’s just been word of mouth.”
That was almost a year ago and since then Karen has moved her business from its original location to a much-loved building many thought would never see another day of business.
 
Dayle’s
It wasn’t easy closing Dayle’s Department Store.
Inevitable, but not easy.
In its heyday, it was the largest department store east of Montreal. Three floors of shopping, and displays that changed with the season. It’s printed ceilings and elegant wood staircase were its centerpieces and its motto was the snappy and memorable: “Where the floors creak and the smiles are genuine.”
But the world was changing. Box stores, online shopping and dollar-grade doodads took over. In January 2016 the floors creaked for what many assumed was the last time but by November Karen and the owners of Dayle’s building – Karen and Don Cormier – were fast tracking talks to move Maritime Mosaic into to former department store.
The move would double Maritime Mosaic’s floor space, but only take up half of the main floor inside the Victoria Street East building. Between the nostalgia of shopping at the beloved department store and the opportunity to buy quality, the public responded in droves.
 “In the first two weeks of December, we paid out over $30,000 back to our community,” Karen said.
There was a lot of space still left inside the building, however, but creative minds were calling.  
 
Hal Davidson

Hal Davidson loves the building.
He loved it when it was Dayle’s Department Store and Margolians before that. Built in 1906 and opened in 1907, it was called the Two Barkers until 1955.
Retired three years ago from a lengthy 33-year career in the public sector, Hal was one of the first customers when the doors opened on Dayle’s Grand Market  
The staircase, the squeaky floors and the furnishings dating back to the buildings origins in 1906 – Hal uses body language as he shares his enthusiasm for the old building.
“There are people who come in here and they walk up the stairs and they turn around and they go ‘Wow. I love this building.’ And they talk about all the things they like.”
For Hal, he just happens to like old things.
He’s collected coins and collectables for years, selling his wares on eBay. Watching the ebb and flow of people coming into the department store once again, he envisioned himself buying and selling inside the store.
When he shared his idea, the die was cast.
“When I talked to Karen … she said: ‘If you’re interested I’d love to have you here. I can loan you this 18-foot table, I’ll loan you the old display cabinet, which would be perfect for displaying you coins. Where would you like to be?’”
Without hesitation, he chose the landing at the top of the stairs. It’s the perfect perch for Hal Davidson’s Coins & Collectibles. As the ‘baby-business’ owner of the bunch, everyone playfully keeps an eye on Hal.
And he’s happy for it.
“I’m not a business person. I’ve never ran a business in my life…. I’ve ran some jails, but this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

 

Kathy Chapelle Legere

Owning a business is no simple task. Nothing is guaranteed.
But if anyone is stressed out about it, it’s hard to tell. The business owners crack jokes, catch up on weekend gossip and enjoy sweet treats courtesy of the onsite café. The mood is celebratory instead of serious, as if everyone inside won the lottery.
Ask Copper Tree Boutique owner Kathy Chapelle Legere, and she’s apt to tell you in some ways she did.
“Fifteen years ago I decided I should have my own business, but you have to get through life first,” Kathy said. “Raising kids, you want to know you have a guaranteed income.”
Kathy says she took the safe road by working in retail.
She was about to go up the corporate ladder when reality set in.
“I started thinking about it hard: I’m going to work away from home, be on the road three or four nights a week; you’re email doesn’t stop, your phone doesn’t stop seven days a week, around the clock. Is this what I want to do?” she said. “I would be able to retire in 10 years but this wasn’t what I want to do.
“So I said, ‘No. I’m going to open my own business and work for the rest of my life.’”
It seems crazy, but after you meet Kathy you understand. She’s a first-class people-person and her boutique brings back some of the department store charm focused on satisfying two key demographics: the public and herself. Instead of selling just what she likes, she focuses on what she feels the community needs. The trade off: it makes her happy.
“As long as I was in retail I'd be happy,” she says.
 
Debbie McConnell

Debbie McConnell also comes from a retail background. Ten years ago she owned a shoe franchise and worked in women’s retail, but trying to make someone else’s corporate model work was not for her. Today she offers furnishing and refurnishing for the home, and it requires her to be ready to change with public interest.
She loves it.
“In my business it has ups and downs. You’re always looking for the thing people want and the colour that is popular,” Debbie said.
She’s about to start teaching classes on refurbishing. It wasn’t part of her initial plan but as her own boss she can make business decision based on new information on the fly instead of getting permission.
“I had a lot of people asking, so I should do that. There is a demand for it.”
There is almost a micro-Wall Street taking place inside Dayle’s Grand Market. Instead of trading stocks and bonds, there are friendly mergers and takeovers happening.
 
Charlene MacDonald and Jen Kants
Just across from Debbie’s corner of the market a major acquisition is happening. After working as the manager of the Holy Cow Café, Charlene MacDonald took it over and rebranded it as the Crystal Café, a compliment to her Mystical Gifts business which was nurtured by Maritime Mosaic until MacDonald was ready to become a full-time business owner.
Next door to the market is Jen Kants’s Beans & Cocoa Toys and Gifts. The business also started under the Maritime Mosaic banner before becoming a standalone operation and Kant’s plans to relocate to the market this September.
“I’ve always loved that building… the goal (is) for all of us to be together. We all know each other well, so it’s exciting,” Kants said.
Kants is not alone in wanting to be part of the experience. Sometimes there are musicians on hand, earning a little while furthering their musical brand. Other times there are produce vendors.
 
Creaks and smiles

In the old days, a market was the hub of the community. Everyone knew the local butcher and trust the advice of the shopkeeper to find that perfect thing for a wedding anniversary.  As centuries turned, things became industrialized. ‘Made Here’ became ‘Made Somewhere Else.’ Markets became malls. Mall became box stores.
Maybe the clock is turning back here, but it more likely we are witnessing a marriage between the old days and new. It’s given new life to an old building loved by the community, and a sense of happiness to the people inside.
Everyday something new comes through the door, and sometimes that new thing is you.
The floors still creak here, and the smiles are, indeed, genuine.  

 

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