Two heads are better than one

Winnipeg businesses are nurturing each other back to life

When the Winnipeg Folk Festival Music Store announced in December that it would be closing its doors, the hearts of many a freewheelin’ Winnipegger were broken. 

Sure, it wasn’t the city’s most comprehensive record store, and the times they are a-changin’ for brick-and-mortar record stores, but the store’s loss was still mourned by those who like to buy Odetta albums, Big River harmonicas and artisanal soaps all in one place.

The despair was short lived. 

The store announced that Into the Music would be taking up the Folk Festival record store banner, absorbing the defunct shop’s remaining catalogue and maintaining a dedicated Folk Fest section. 

The move is just one of a growing trend in Winnipeg, in which independent businesses adopt one another and nurture each other to success.

Perhaps the most noteworthy example of this practice is Movie Village. When the iconic video store lost its location in 2012, the store’s future seemed in jeopardy.

“(The building’s owner) decided it was time to sell it,” manager Laurene Murdoch told The Uniter in a 2015 interview. “So that left us to find somewhere else to go. The man who owned Music Trader also owned Movie Village. So he just put us together.”

The resulting partnership created one of Osborne Village’s most beloved shops, making obscure films and independent music accessible in one streamlined space.

It’s a model that’s often fruitful, but not always arrived at intentionally. 

When Mona Zaharia purchased secondhand clothing store Wolseley Wardrobe in 2005, she dedicated a small corner of the store to a personal hobby.

“I added a little yarn nook in the back,” Zaharia says. “It was something I really loved to do and there were a number of yarn shops closing in the city at the time. We had kids’ classes and homeschool classes. I don’t think I ever really expected it to get its own legs.”

But it did. Wolseley Wardrobe’s yarn section expanded and in 2010, Zaharia moved her yarn out of the clothing store and started Wolseley Wool. 

While Wolseley Wardrobe has since closed, Wolseley Wool has grown beyond its location and will soon be moving back to the original Wolseley Wardrobe building.

This peculiar Winnipeg business model might seem idiosyncratic, but Graham Bargen thinks it makes a lot of sense. 

The co-founder of Thom Bargen Coffee & Tea has used this integrated model at both the original Sherbrook Street location, which is shared with Wilder Goods, and the new Kennedy Street shop, which houses Modern Supply Co.

“(Winnipeg’s) occupancy codes are pretty whacky,” Bargen says. “We don’t have a lot of streets that offer small square footage for boutique stores or shops. There’s a lot of big spaces for lease, which is great if you’re opening a Moxie’s, for example. But the only way we could accomplish what we wanted to do was to take one of those bigger spaces and build to the size we wanted.”

Bargen says that, while the arrangement might be a reaction to less-than-ideal circumstances, he’s happy with the results.

“It’s great. People are constantly blown away when they find out (Wilder Goods) is in the back. They make our baristas’ aprons and we all wear their backpacks. I can’t picture it any other way.”

Published in Volume 70, Number 26 of The Uniter (March 31, 2016)

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