behind the scenes
Leslie Wallack spent much of her early life in big cities such as Montreal, Ottawa and Kingston. Blessed with an entrepreneurial spirit, it was in Kingston that Leslie opened her first business - a salon.
Eventually, it came time for a change and Leslie began to look at moving to a smaller setting.
“I moved from the city life to Perth in 2000 and never looked back,” she says.
While Perth had a comfortable every-day pace about it, Leslie found it also had just enough happening to keep things interesting through-out the year. As for herself, she wasn’t sure just how she was going to fit in.
“Initially, I wasn’t sure what i was going to do,” she recalls.
An avid reader Leslie had built up a considerable private library with friends and neighbours often borrowing her books. Eventually, one of them suggested she do what she loved and open a bookstore.
The suggestion made a lot of sense and in 2007 Leslie opened the Book Nook in downtown Perth.
“I wasn’t looking to get rich or anything, but i knew I couldn’t make it with books alone, so I started to add complementary items such as art supplies and games and puzzles. That’s how the Book Nook & Other Treasures was born.”
When Covid hit and everyone began to look for things to do at home, Leslie’s inventory met a very public demand.
During the lockdowns when in-store shopping was curtailed, she worked on her website as a means of offering online orders. While the website worked well, Leslie was well aware she couldn’t compete with the likes of Amazon.
It was then that she took to heart the advice of a business adviser who told her: “Don’t compete with Amazon. Focus on your local area.”
So that’s what she did introducing curbside pick-up and local deliveries.
“In the Perth area books and puzzles have always been popular with cottagers looking to have something to do on rainy days,” explains Leslie.
During the pandemic, the sale of books and puzzles increased. At first she found it was the older adults buying them, but soon found they were being bought by all ages including teenagers and young adults “who seemed to rediscover the joy of doing puzzles.”
It was no surprise.
“In difficult times books and puzzles offer folks some degree of normal,” Leslie reflects.
“I’ve always enjoyed the shared bond that exists between readers,” muses Leslie. “There’s a certain dynamic that makes a bookstore a perfect location for conversation. It’s like a gathering of friends with mutual acquaintances.”
While Leslie enjoys discussing her books with her customers, she often finds the conversation quickly moves from one customer to another with each invariably making recommendations for the other.
“I have one regular who reads a lot of non-fiction. If he finds something he likes, he’ll come back in to order additional copies for family and friends. One time he ordered a couple copies of a book and when it came in, he said to me, ‘here I you to want to read this I think you’ll enjoy it’”
“I explained that he didn’t have to order a book for me and we both had a good laugh.”
These days Leslie welcomes a new employee, Mark, to the shop. Mark is also an avid reader and a freelance editor.
While the pandemic has made in-store shopping more difficult, Leslie has worked hard to ensure that it was safe. Hers was one of the first businesses to mandate masks.
“Not everybody was happy with me and a few even left without coming in the store, but for me it’s all about protecting the community. I don’t resent the protocols. The sooner we adhere to them, the sooner we’ll get out of this mess,” she explains.
While her product line has enabled her to weather the damage done by Covid better than many, Leslie is well aware that it’s been more difficult for some of her colleagues.
“We have to look out for each other,” she says.
During the pandemic she has watched as business owners bought from each other and reached out to each other about new ideas and survival strategies.
“It’s been very inspiring to see,” she says. “After all we are in this together.”
Whether Meredith Salvian Creighton found Perth or it found her is a matter of some conjecture.
Born in Burlington, Meredith was the oldest of six children. As chance would have it, her family lived just a block away from the Mahaffy family whose daughter Leslie would be the tragic victim of serial killer Paul Bernado.
“When that happened my father, who was a policeman in Hamilton, said that’s it were moving and we ended up in Port Dover. It was there that I grew up,” Meredith recalls.
Eventually, she found herself working in the periodontal industry in Ottawa as an executive consultant.
“I worked with the patients as a treatment coordinator” she explains. “I’d meet with the clients and establish their needs and then coordinate the proper course of treatment with the dentist.”
At the same time her husband Mark was in new home sales.
By 2014, the couple made the decision to move to a smaller community to raise their family. Meredith had 2 children by a previous marriage, a son James and a daughter Alison, a special needs child.
“As Alison got older and we learned more about her specific disability, we became concerned about her education and the support she would need,” says Meredith. “We knew she was going to need a lot of help and weren’t convinced she would get in a large city high school. So we began to look around.”
Thinking back Meredith recalls coming through Perth ten years ago and sitting on the bench in front of the Toronto Dominion Bank. She remembers thinking at the time that this would be a good place to live.
Little did she know that one day she would own a cheese shop located right behind that very same bank.
Impressed by what they saw in Perth, Meredith and Mark and moved their family here in 2014.
“It was the best decision,” she says. “We had no intention of opening a shop, but often recalled our past visits to various cheese shops in places like Pert Dover and Georgetown. We wondered if one would succeed in Perth.”
Convinced that it would, Meredith and Mark opened their shop in a converted mill in July 2018.
“We knew from the beginning we’d need to sell more than just cheese, so we stocked things such as crackers, olives and mustards, as well as chocolates.”
In the upstairs of the shop, Meredith sells accoutrements such as gift baskets and chacuterie boards many made by a local craftsman.
From the beginning Meredith tried to source her products locally and says that as much as 70% of her products are local, including chocolate from Hummingbird Chocolate in Almonte and maple syrup from the Farrell’s in Stanleyville.
To date two of her biggest sellers have been a sheep’s milk brie and a highland blue cheese, both made by the Back Forty Cheese Company in Mississippi Station.
Ultimately whether a product is local or not is not what determines if it makes it into her shop.
“It’s not good enough that it’s local,” says Meredith. “It also has to be of a high quality. We test and taste everything we stock.”
From the beginning, Meredith was busy.
“People love local,” she muses.
Then Covid hit and things got quiet.
“We modified our hours. We began to offer free delivery. We made adjustments in our product line,” explains Meredith for whom a fine charcuterie had always been an excellent way to bring family and friends together.
But the pandemic changed that.
When one customer suggested that rather than one large charcuterie board, she’d be interested in smaller individual sizes so everyone wasn’t eating off the same board, it was a suggestion Meredith followed up on.
Looking back Meredith and Mark are pleased with the decision they made.
“The community has been incredible,” says Meredith who explains that their daughter Alison has found just the kind of support she needed.
“She’s the happiest, friendliest girl you’ll ever meet,” says Meredith. “She has taught us all how to stay positive.”
And that’s a valuable lesson when you own a business in the middle of a pandemic.
Behind the scenes at the Katherine Muir-Miller Gallery, with artist and owner, Katherine Muir-Miller
A serious accident in 2015 changed forever the course of Katherine Muir-Miller’s life.
A former emergency room nurse, Katherine suffered a serious fall that not only ended her nursing career, but brought about a dramatic shift in her lifestyle. Prior to the accident, she had played hockey, run triathlons and worked out, as well as having raised five children.
“Our children now range from 24 – 30 years old,” she says. ”One works in the intensive care unit in Kingston, one is a paramedic, one is a forester, one is a firemen and one is studying biology with the intent of becoming a doctor.”
Growing up Katherine’s children had an appreciation for the outdoors, enjoying activities such as canoe trips, hockey, hiking and white water canoeing, often taking photographs of their adventures.
While she did a bit of tole painting when the children were younger, it wasn’t until 2010 that Katherine started to paint landscapes and only after her accident that she approached it with any degree of seriousness.
“I discovered that painting was something I could physically do and it was incredibly therapeutic,” as she recalls how it helped her through her “dark and terrible” days of physical therapy, chiropractic care, vision and balance therapy and the rebuilding of her neck muscles.
“The accident slowed me down,” says Katherine “and I guess that energy had to go somewhere. I could have sat around and gone ‘oh woe is me,’ but that’s not my style.”
As painting became an integral part of her recovery, it was Katherine’s use of colour that gave her work its distinctive flavour.
“I love Canadian landscapes. There’s so much colour there and I paint them as I see them. Red rocks? Maybe, I was being daring. I don’t know. It didn’t seem so at the time,” she explains.
” Visually and emotionally, we are surrounded by nature. Canada is breath-taking. It’s my hope to help bring it to life through my use of colour. I’m thrilled when someone recognizes a particular place in one of my paintings.”
To this day Katherine’s passion for colour in nature remains a driving force in her work.
“Landscapes give off colour to me..... It’s fascinating how many colours one can see in a single tree. Every artist sees things differently. You could have 20 different artists paint a particular pine tree and you’d end up with 20 different pine trees,” she says.
Gradually, as her inventory of pieces grew, she began to take them to art shows, eventually deciding that she’d do three years of shows and then reassess where things were at.
With her husband and children working as a support team, the shows went well until the outset of the third year when Covid hit.
“I was going to do 10 shows in 2020, but as it turned out, I did one and the rest were cancelled.”
That July as Katherine was walking through downtown Perth with a friend, she saw a storefront sign that read: “Rent Reduced.”
Her friend suggested she open a gallery.
While it wasn’t something Katherine had ever considered, she wrote down the number and later when her husband offered the same suggestion, she made the call.
Then on November 5, 2020, Katherine opened her gallery in downtown Perth.
While it was, as Katherine termed it, “a giant leap of faith,” she had the full support of her family who pointed out that the cost of the gallery was really no different than the cost of the ten cancelled shows.
“It was meant to be,” recalls Katherine. “It seemed my work had finally found a home.”
While her intention had always been to open a studio, a place where she could paint outside her home, it was only when she saw the sign in Perth that she decided to open a gallery.
“I wanted it to have a wow factor so I paid close attention to the colour and other decor details such as the lighting etc.,” explains Katherine, who continues to paint at home, while using her gallery to feature her own work and that of other emerging local artists.
Today Katherine’s life has come full circle.
What had once been a hobby when her children were young has now become a full-time occupation as she transforms the photographs of their adventures into stunning works of art.
Behind the scenes with founder Gobi Nada and associate Asan Panchalingam, owner of Kothu labs in Perth
“The word kothu means ‘to chop,’” explains Gobi Nada, founder of Kothu Labs.
Originally from Sri Lanka, where Kothu is an authentic street food, Gobi left his home country 25 years ago because of the civil war.
“Back home you could constantly hear the street vendors at their carts chop, chop, chopping,” recalls Gobi who explains that Kothu is comprised of a base of roti, pasta, fries, chickpeas, noodles and rice, along with a variety of spices.
“Every serving can be a little bit different depending on what the customer wants in their Kothu,” says Gobi. “That’s where the term Lab comes from. There’s always an open invitation for the customer to experiment with their order.”
“You can modify your choice making it mild, medium or hot,” he says. “For instance, though you order yours with chicken, you can make it butter chicken or jerk chicken.”
Gobi, who is married with three children and works in the construction industry, had brought to Canada a dream of starting a franchise. When he decided to establish a Kothu Labs chain, Gobi began to look at sites outside the GTA.
“There are simply too many choices in Toronto,” he explains, “too many Sri Lankan restaurants. I wanted to look at smaller centres with a strong tourist base.”
By bringing Sri Lankan cuisine to the more rural areas of Eastern Ontario Gobi also hoped to share a part of himself and the culture of his homeland with others.
“Food is a way to connect,” explains Gobi.
Having learned about business from a hands-on approach, Gobi was anxious to pass his knowledge on to others, especially young entrepreneurs wanting to pursue a career in business.
While the initial plan was to open a Belleville location first, followed by Perth and then Niagara Falls, when Gobi and associate Asan Panchalingam came to town they decided that Perth would be the first location.
“We fell in love with the area and the European vibe,” says Gobi who points out that all of the employees, including the cooks and waitresses, are from the Perth area.
“The people here are super friendly,” he says.
As physical changes began at the restaurant, people soon became curious about what was going on.
“When we were doing the renovation, we had people pulling on the door handle asking when we’d be open,” said Gobi. “It’s a friendly town with supportive people.”
On Sept. 18, 2020, the first ever Kothu Labs opened its doors at 40 Foster St. in Perth.
Once opened the restaurant immediately began to source fresh ingredients for its house-made specialties. All of the food is prepared in front of the customer in the restaurant’s open kitchen with the Kothu team always looking to introduce new choices into their menu.
Early in the pandemic when travel abroad was curtailed and many Canadians were missing the flavour of international cuisine, Kothu Labs provided people in the Perth area with a culinary offering that helped transport them to another part of the world.
“We bring a different food,” says Asan Panchalingam, owner of the Perth location.
In addition to the customizable dishes, Kothu Labs offers versatile signature dishes as well. Common spices used in Sri Lankan cooking are coriander, cumin, turmeric, black pepper, mustard seeds, fennel seeds, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves.
Asan, who is also married with three children, has worked in the restaurant industry for 15 years and enjoys a variety of food, with his favourite Sri Lankan dish being rice & lamb curry.
In his free time, Asan enjoys playing cricket and reading books. He also loves cooking for his family and likes to see the joy on their faces as they devour his specialities.
While the decision to own a restaurant in Perth was a rewarding one for Asan, it came with a lot of sacrifices as his family still lives 3 hours away. For 5 days a week, Asan is in Perth, while he returns to his family on his days off.
During the pandemic, Kothu Labs has proven to be a welcome member of the Perth community, offering free meals to those in need and back-to-school kits for area children.
Although balancing work and home has been challenging for Asan, he’s grateful for the support he has found in the Perth community and is confident that his hard work & dedication will pay off.
Figuring out what to do when the grandkids came over wasn’t all that difficult for Marilyn Manson.
“I decided to buy a store and put them to work,” she smiles.
After 31 years of working for Ontario Parks as a senior clerk at Murphy’s Point Provincial Park, Marilyn decided to retire and spend her days as a full-time grandmother.
Marilyn has three daughters, plus two son-in-laws and seven grandchildren, in addition to two great-nieces who are like adopted grandchildren. On any given day you may find one or more of them in the store working alongside Marilyn.
As well, you may find her husband there in the background building furniture, remodeling the store, painting or doing whatever needs to be done.
Family is important for Marilyn who grew up in the hamlet of White.
“No one knows where it is,” she laughs. “It’s actually half-way between Brightside and Calabogie, but there’s no sign. Nothing. Just a small schoolhouse to indicate where it is.”
While she now lives a little closer to Perth, it’s still a long way from city living.
“We live on the Ferguson’s Falls Road,” she explains. “We have meat hens and laying hens, pet pot belly pigs and a meat pig, 12 goats, a dog, a cat and a rabbit that runs free usually alongside the cat and dog.”
Despite the fact that it’s a busy household, Marilyn knew when she left her job at the park that she wanted to have something else to do.
In the back of her mind, she had always dreamt of having her own store and having her kids and grandkids work alongside her.
“I felt if I opened a store it would give everyone a place to help out, a place to be together. They could mind the store and paint and clean up, do odd jobs etc.,” she says.
“So when i retired I bought my favorite store - Treasure Lane. I loved their inventory and the atmosphere of the store,” explains Marilyn.
When Marilyn took over the store in October 2019 it was located in a small room half-way down the lane that runs between Foster and North streets in Perth.
Eventually, the need for a better location became evident and on July 1, 2020 Marilyn moved the store from its location in the lane to its present location at 62 Gore St. E. In the process she renamed it Treasure Lane by the Tay in reference to its proximity to the iconic Tay River that runs through Perth.
“My husband and grandson finished painting the new location one evening and the next day at 3:00 p.m. we closed the store in the lane and the whole family arrived. We had everything moved in and the new store open at 10:00 a.m. the next day. It was the hottest day of the year,” recalls Marilyn whose family often reminds her of moving on the hottest day of the summer!
While the move allowed Marilyn to expand her inventory, it didn’t shift her focus.
“I try to keep my product as local as possible. My husband makes the furniture. I have a carpenter who makes coat racks for me. I have a lady who does stain glass, another who makes homemade soap, dishcloths, headbands and personalizes glasses and mugs. People love local,” she explains.
“I try to stock things that no one else has. I love the Amish-type of items such as the baked enamel trays, bowls and especially lighting. I have a large variety of clocks, paintings and a number of signs, many with funny sayings on them. You have to have a little fun,” she laughs.
While the pandemic has been far from fun, Marilyn has made adjustments along the way to how she does business. She now has a strong social media presence using videos on Instagram and Facebook Live posts to stay in touch with her customer base. It has worked well and Marilyn currently boasts over 8,000 Facebook followers.
“Last Mother’s day I offered free delivery to Carleton Place, Almonte, Smiths Falls, Kingston and even the east end of Ottawa and it was hugely popular,” she points out. “I often still do deliveries in Ottawa and Kingston – it’s always an option if I’m heading that way.”
One of the things Marilyn has most appreciated during the pandemic has been the support of her fellow business owners.
“We have to help each other,” she says. “If I don’t have something then I refer the customer to a different store. I’m constantly sending people to other locations.”
It’s a spirit of collaboration born, no doubt, out of Marilyn’s belief in the importance of family.
Few industries have been as hard hit during the pandemic as the wedding industry. Couples have had to change dates on numerous occasions and constantly alter plans for invitation lists and so on.
It’s a fact known only too well by Julia Foley owner of Ever After Bridal Boutique which carries a wide selection of both new and consignment clothing, including gowns for special occasions.
“The impact has been devastating,” says Julia who has tried to remain busy while working at home.
“I took a seven week course through the Small Business Advisory Centre and took part in the Digital Main Street Program as well. But mine is a business where you really have to come in and experience the fitting of the dress and so on. It’s all about the experience. It’s their happy moment.”
While many retailers have switched to online sales, it isn’t really an option for Julia.
“Some of my items are on consignment, they’re not mine. What if I sent something out and it’s returned with damage? I couldn’t have that,” she maintains.
Julia has found the government regulations to be simply too restrictive.
“I feel that what we do is as essential as some other businesses. You take a large chunk out of the local economy when you eliminate weddings,” she points out.
“I don’t see any reason why small businesses couldn’t be open. We are far safer and take far more precautions than the big box stores do,” says Julia who grew up in the hamlet of Balderson just outside of Perth where her parents operated a vacation farm as a bed-and-breakfast.
“Growing up I learned how to make friends fast and the importance of hospitality,” she recalls. “I helped with the family business. Throughout the years it seemed I always had my feet inside a restaurant.”
It was these experiences that eventually led Julia to a career in event planning and management.
“Eventually, I enrolled in the hotel and restaurant management course at college,” she points out.
Along the way, she literally married the boy next door.
“Yeah he really was the boy next door and he’s been extremely supportive with my career,” reflects Julia.
Although she founded L.O.V.E. – Local Ottawa Valley Events - these days Julia does very little in the way of wedding planning.
“I’m still an officiant and can renew people’s vows for them etc. and I’ll still help with the planning, as a favour for a friend, but these days weddings are so small that there’s not a lot of planning needed.”
For Julia it’s been a double whammy since one of the other markets she catered to was the travel industry.
“I used to sell to women going on a cruise who were looking for something special to wear on the formal night on the ship, but, of course, that’s all been shut down as well.”
Julia recently hired two models and a photographer to do a photo shoot of her inventory, but she’s had to put them on hold.
“For me, it’s been a total pause. It’s tough to stay positive,” reflects the young lady from Balderson whose upbringing on the farm will no doubt help to see her through the challenge.
They say every cloud has a silver lining. While that may be a bit of a cliché, for Kim Kuhnle, owner of Balderson Kidz, it holds an element of truth.
“When the pandemic arrived and the first lockdown hit, we were looking for a way to stay connected with our customers,” recalls Kim. “That’s when we started our book club.”
“It was an opportunity for families to sign up and receive 3 – 5 books each month, delivered free to their home,” explains Kim. “Every two weeks I load up the car and head out.”
With many youngsters at home and parents looking to keep them occupied, the club became an instant hit. Before long, Kim’s arrival at the various homes became a much anticipated event. “It’s so cute. In many cases, the kids are sitting in the window waiting for us to arrive,” says Kim.
Kids love clubs. As a result, along with her book club, Kim began a Boredom Buster Club, a surprise pack containing a range of products for children again delivered to the door each month. The pack could include everything from activity books, crafts and how-to-guides and. Kim also has a Sticker Club.
Kim knows all too well what it’s like to be looking for something to do. She originally came from Osgoode a place she says is smaller than Perth.
“It’s so small, they don’t even have street lights,” she laughs. Looking to move somewhere bigger, without having to relocate to the city, Kim arrived in Perth in 2006. Prior to that she had worked in the retail industry since she was 14.
“I eventually went to college in the business administration program and got a job in an office, but it wasn’t for me,” she says. She left after less than a year.
Her heart belonged in retail and so she became the franchise owner of the Mac’s Milk on the corner of Gore & Craig Streets in Perth.
“That was hard. With a young family, it was tough to be on call 24/7 so I gave that up,” she says.
By this time she and her husband Brett had three children – Josie age 10, Sophia age 9 and Blake who is 1 1/2. Their middle child Sofia has severe autism.
With a young family at her side, Kim decided that whatever she did next would have to involve her kids.
“I knew that whatever it was I did, I wanted to be able to bring the children to work. So when Balderson KIdz became available it just seemed like a good fit,” she reflects.
Having a retail outlet dealing in merchandise for children was the perfect fit for Kim and her family with her kids quickly becoming her quality control department.
“We test everything that comes into store,” says Kim who explains why the pandemic has been especially difficult for her business. “It’s hard to buy children’s things on line. People like to come in and try things out. It’s just easier for them to do exchanges and returns.”
While she missed her walk-in customers, Kim used her time during the lockdowns to strengthen her online presence through such programs as the Digital Main Street. She also looked to add to her line of children’s clothing. “I’ve really wanted to expand my selection of footwear since there isn’t really anywhere else that carries that.”
Having a child with special needs has allowed Kim to expand her inventory in different ways with items specifically designed for children who are developmentally delayed.
“These items are also tested by Sofia and her other children,” points out Kim “and have become extremely popular. We just started stocking them in June and since then we’ve had to re-order multiple times.”
With her children taking an active part in the business, it keeps everything in the family, just the way Kim wanted it.
“We have fun,” she says. And when work is fun, it hardly seems like work at all.
Having grown up in Lanark, Ontario, Angie Whyte was eighteen when she took a job placement at Shadowfax in downtown Perth. As fate would have it, she never left.
“I was in the Futures program at Algonquin College,” recalls Angie. “We were supposed to do three four month placements at different locations, but after four months Wendy and I decided I should stay right where I was.”
According to Angie, “Wendy and I just seemed to hit it off.”
At the time Wendy Laut, the founder of Shadowfax, was a well known figure around Perth, having served as a town councillor, a founding member of the popular Stewart Park Festival and a long-standing environmental activist.
“She was so special,” recalls Angie. “She was very generous with her employees. She had a natural way of building people up and making them feel good. She was my boss, but she was also part sister and part best friend.”
In Wendy, Angie found a kindred spirit who always took the side of the underdog.
“Even when renting the apartments above the store, Wendy would take in those who others would consider too risky,” explained Angie. “Everyone deserves a fair chance Wendy would say.”
Established in 1980 Shadowfax was very much a reflection of Wendy Laut’s personality.
“It was eclectic, funky and had a spirit of fun,” says Angie who started there in 1989 and had the store willed to her by Wendy who would pass away from cancer in 2009.
“I’ve tried to keep the spirit of Wendy alive,” says Angie who believes that to this day the store is still filled with her friend’s energy.
“The energy of the store is so important,” reflects Angie. “People come in just to soak it up. Sometimes they come to buy, but sometimes they simply come for a visit. This is my happy place they’ll say.’
The spirit of Shadowfax is very much in keeping with Angie’s belief that one must approach life with a positive outlook, an attitude that is uplifting rather than gloomy.
“You can’t take life too seriously,” she says. “As they say, don’t sweat the small stuff.”
Nowhere is this sense of fun more evident than in the greeting cards she stocks.
“There’s a bit of shock value there, no doubt about it” Angie laughs. “People will pick one up to have a look and then do a double take.”
Every Sunday from 11:00 – 4:00 the store hosts its “Physic Sundays” featuring different intuitive readers.
“These events have become massively popular,” says Angie, “and often those who come for them will end up buying tarot cards or oracle cards or crystals. The volume is up, no question about it. It’s part of a growing holistic approach to wellness. “
During the pandemic as people’s concern for their health increased so too did their interest in the healing property of such things as crystals.
It’s this spiritual aspect of the business that interests Colleen Lamontagne who started at the store in 2001 and remains a close friend and co-worker of Angie’s.
“Her loyalty, enthusiasm and genuine love of her job are unmistakable,” says Angie who points out that Colleen’s understanding of the different properties and benefits of each stone and its origins are facts she loves to share.
Leanne Dwyer is another important part of the Shadowfax team and is best known for her magical, whimsical flair with displays. She’s also the team’s master organizer.
Angie, Colleen and Leanne aren’t the only ones that visitors come to see at Shadowfax. There’s also Piper, their beloved English Budgie, who came to them as a baby in 2012 and now commands a vocabulary of over 200 words.
“He’s a very cherished and important member of our Shadowfax family”, says Angie. “Many pop in to visit him, often bringing him treats and are anxious to hear what new words or phrases he’s learned.”
For Angie it’s one more indication of the kind of connection that has drawn people to Shadowfax over the years.
“People need to feel welcomed and to be heard. Otherwise, they’d just go to Wal-Mart,” maintains Angie who has worked hard to ensure that Shadowfax has remained true to its roots.
Keeping people happy, healthy, laughing and inspired has been the key to the store’s success since the beginning.
Forty-one years later it still is and one senses that Wendy knew it would be when she handed things over to Angie in 2009.
Tina Gateley’s mom had always wanted to be a librarian.
“But marriage and children came along and that never came to be,” laughs Tina.
Despite getting sidetracked from her chosen profession Barbara Gateley managed to pass her love of books along to her family.
“Books were always important for us, “reflects Tina. “Both my parents are avid readers, as am I.”
Originally from Montreal, the Gateley family moved to Perth when Tina’s parents began to look seriously for a place to retire.
“They wanted to get out of the big city and looked at a number places, including Peterborough and Picton, but they fell in love with Perth,” she explains. “There’s something about the town that lures you in, so much so that my parents bought a house here sight-unseen.”
Then in 2001 Tina’s mom bought The Bookworm.
“It was a small, rather messy and dark establishment situated in the lane across from the Chipmunk Chippery,” recalls Tina.
It wasn’t long, however, before Tina’s mom had used her “librarian’s touch” to clean it up and get it organized.
Over the years, the store moved to various locations in downtown Perth.
“We were always at the mercy of the landlords,” recalls Tina. “Rents kept going up or we had to move because they wanted the space for another purpose.”
In 2007 the Gately’s decided to sell their home and buy the building at 76 Foster St. that housed their bookstore. In so doing, they made the apartment above the store their permanent residence.
Growing up Tina had always helped around the store cataloguing and filing books. So it was natural in 2011, with her mom looking to retire, that Tina decided to move back to Perth from the west, where she was working in the theatre industry, to “run the joint,” as she puts it.
“I went from being backstage to being on stage,” Tina says with a smile. “I love it. I meet the most incredible people and we talk about the most interesting topics. When you talk to people who read books, the discussion just seems to be that much more informed.”
It’s a relationship that extends beyond the confines of the bookstore.
“I will see a customer at the grocery store or wherever and they’ll recognize me. They won’t always remember my name, but they’ll recognize me as the ‘book lady.’”
It was shortly after Tina took over the store that the book industry entered a difficult time.
“The internet was taking off and eBooks were becoming big. Many of the larger book stores began to close down,” recalls Tina. “Retail can be tough.”
Despite the challenges, the Bookworm survived.
“There’s something about books,” says Tina. “Many readers who switched to EBooks returned to a paper copy because they missed the look, the feel, the smell of an actual book.”
During the pandemic, books took on an even greater importance.
“Books allow the reader to escape the world around them,” she says. “That’s the thing. They take you to another place, another time. You forget about the world you’re in.”
According to Tina that’s why people are often disappointed in the movie version of a book.
“It’s not the way they had pictured it in their minds,” she says. “The characters aren’t right or something is out of place.”
Tina’s stock is constantly changing with her customers bringing in books for her to sell. Seeing what they bring always gives her a feeling of anticipation.
“Looking through the boxes is like Christmas all over again. Oooh what’s in this box?” she laughs.
Sometimes she simply gets too many boxes.
“That’s when I have to put up my ‘cranky sign’ telling people I’m not accepting any more books at the moment. It’s supply management,” she explains.
With her mom spelling her off occasionally, Tina continues to love what she does and where she does it.
“Perth just makes you feel at home,” Tina explains, as one who knows the feeling first-hand.
As a youngster growing up in New Brunswick, Penny Flowers loved to play store. It was for this very reason that her father used to place a stool at the front counter of her family’s general store thus allowing her to stand on it and operate the cash register.
While Penny enjoyed working in the store, she also loved visiting other stores. Nothing made her happier than a shopping trip with her aunt.
"Just to walk through the stores and marvel at the clothes was glorious for me," Penny recalls. "Or to watch movies like Breakfast at Tiffany's and think wouldn't it be fun if everyone could make their dreams a reality."
Eventually, Penny married and moved to Arnprior, Ontario, with her husband and two boys. Here she took over management of the Twin Maples Motel, but the marriage didn’t last and was followed by a difficult divorce.
“After that I needed a change of scenery,” recalls Penny who in 2017 moved to Perth with her youngest son, Charlie, who was 12 at the time.
“I do believe Perth is where I was meant to be,” she says. “Since I moved here, everything has fallen into place. This has been the fresh start I needed.”
Her first job in Perth was at Shaw’s where she worked as a sales clerk. Before long she became the manager and within a year opened Miss Penny’s Closet on the upper floor of the well-known Shaw building.
upper floor of the well-known Shaw building.
Her main line of inventory at the time was plus size clothing, most of it sourced in Montreal and all of it made in Canada.
“I’ve always devoted my efforts to those whose body shape may not fit the usual mold,” explains Penny. “Often their clothing is a special order and that shouldn’t be.”
In December 2019 Penny took over both floors of the large, heritage building. While filling the space was a challenge, it was one that Penny gladly accepted.
“My intent has always been to help people feel good about what they’re wearing,” says Penny. “My reward is to see them take pride in how they look. There’s no sense selling someone a suit when it’s hanging on them like it was their grand-father’s.”
Another important factor for Penny is the price.
“It shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg to look good,” maintains Penny. “I’ve been there. I’ve been that over-sized girl who couldn’t find anything that fit decently and I’ve been the girl who went shopping with her friends and had to leave the store with nothing, because there was nothing that I could afford. I know what it feels like. I’ve been the one without a package to take home.”
For this reason Penny has always made sure that she carried a line of less expensive items, such as scarves and earrings.
“I want everyone to be able to find something in my store, whatever their size or their pocketbook,” she says.
When the ownership of the Shaw building changed hands and she wasn’t able to renegotiate her lease, Penny was forced to look for a new location, eventually taking over both ends of the lane between Foster and North Streets where she opened two different stores.
“It’s been great,” says Penny. “I’ve been able to fix them up the way I want. This is me. This is who I am. In the other building, I couldn’t renovate or decorate the way I wanted. I had no identity there. The identity was that of Shaw’s, not Miss Penny’s.”
It’s a fact that matters to Penny who maintains that a business is a reflection of its owner.
“It’s who we are,” she explains with an added provision. “We are all unique, but we have to work together to help each other do their thing.”
The pandemic, according to Penny, has forced everyone to focus on what’s important.
“The retail world can be a rat race,” she says. “Sometimes you have to step off the wheel and try to relax or you’ll burn out.”
In the end the recipe for success is a simple one.
“If you love what you’re doing, you will be successful,” Penny says.
According to Kerri Whan shopping for clothes should be fun, not a chore. There’s enough stress these days claims Kerri without having the additional worry of how to dress oneself.
“We believe all women, no matter who they are or what they look like, should feel amazing in their clothes and have fun doing it,” explains Kerri.
It’s what she calls the fun factor.
“At Fashion Envy women can browse for clothing freely, without feeling any pressure to buy” she explains. ”We listen and offer advice only when asked.”
Kerri and her associate, Anne Boldt, look upon what they do as a form of artistic expression.
“We consider ourselves to be stylists rather than clerks. We want the individual to feel good about what they’re buying,” explains Kerri. “We want to create a fun shopping experience, something that leaves the customer with some beautiful clothing and a smile on their face.”
For Kerri that philosophy has taken on an even greater importance during the pandemic.
“We like to think we lift people’s spirits,” explains Kerri. “We like nothing better than when a customer asks that we remove the tags so they can wear the clothes right out of the store.”
Throughout the pandemic, Kerri has kept her focus squarely on what she enjoys.
“I guess you could say I’m living the dream during a nightmare,” is the way she puts it.
From an early age Kerri Whan had been drawn to the world of retail. Born and raised in this area, she eventually attended college where she received a diploma in Business Marketing.
Following several years of experience in the retail industry, in 2015 Kerri opened her first boutique in Smiths Falls before moving it to Perth in 2017.
“I’ve always had a great support group from my family, as well as various mentors and friends,” she says. “I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Kerri approaches her business more as a friend than a sales clerk.
“I thoroughly enjoy finding clothes that give women a boost of confidence,” she explains. “I wanted my boutique to feel comfortable and to be a welcoming place where women of all shapes and sizes could take a deep breath and know there was no judgment.”
It’s the kind of approach that naturally puts helping before selling.
“Ladies come here looking for help,” explains Kerri. “They’ll say this is what I’m dressing for or this is what I need. They welcome the advice and appreciate the honesty in our feedback.”
Kerri is is well aware that a nice piece of clothing properly sized can be a great pick-up during difficult times.
“In the end, if I have a customer who leaves feeling good, I know I’ve done my job,” she explains.
These days of uncertainty and lockdowns has forced Kerri to think outside the box. While her website has helped in that regard, she still finds that a phone call or an email has been the preferred method of communication with her customers.
The pandemic has made it impossible for many to shop in-person, including Kerri who is unable to attend the trade shows that she would usually go to.
“Ordering these days is a real shot in the dark,” she says. “I listen closely to my customers to see what’s trending and to try and keep my finger on the pulse of what people are looking for.”
It’s a challenge, but it’s one that Kerri meets with her customary optimism. She’s well aware that these days what she does “is not for the faint of heart.”
Still, despite the challenge, she considers herself to be lucky to be doing what she does.
Sheri Robertson, Joan Stephenson-Bowes and Kevin Van Dusen know all too well that they occupy a special piece of Perth history.
As owners of Maximilian’s Restaurant the three oversee a tradition that goes back close to 50 years. It’s a legacy that, according to Kevin, keeps them on their toes.
“We like the challenge of trying new things and introducing new items into the menu, while continuing to offer our tried-and-true favorites,” he says. “It keeps us hopping. “
“We have a very loyal customer base,” continues Sheri. “Most of them came to the restaurant as children and now, as parents, they bring their own children and, in some cases, grandchildren.”
While continuity is an important aspect of what makes Maximilian’s special, the owners are also keenly aware of their need to move with the times.
“We now offer vegan, vegetarian and diary free options,” Joan points out. “In fact, we just introduced a gluten-free schnitzel and it’s gone over very well.”
Nobody knows the recipes better than Kevin who was just 22 years old when he began as a chef at the restaurant on Mother’s Day 2005.
“What a baptism by fire that was,” recalls Kevin who considers himself to be a high energy person. “I tend to be the go-go guy on the team. It helps to be a little ADHD in the restaurant business.”
Sherri is the newest member of the team having joined 5 years ago. She had been coming to the restaurant since she was 8 years old.
“I had my favorite dish, the Pork Paprikas, and I got it every time we came here,” she recalls.
“They wouldn’t give me the recipe so eventually I bought the restaurant to get it,” laughs Sherri who started out as a server before becoming a co-owner in 2015.
Unlike the others, Joan had never worked at Maximilian’s before coming on board as a co-owner.
“But we knew who she was because she used to deliver desserts here,” points out Sherri.
It was in 2013 following the sale of her commercial bakery business (Perth Pie Co.) that Joan joined the ownership team at Maximilian’s.
“She’s our numbers person,” says Kevin.
By 2019 Joan realized the numbers were becoming more and more of a challenge.
“Our rent was going up every year,” says Joan. “So was the cost of food, heat and hydro.”
It was for this reason on May 1 of that year that the three took a leap of faith and bought the large Georgian sandstone building that had housed the restaurant since 1990.
“It was a huge accomplishment for the business,” says Joan, “and one we’re very proud of.”
Less than a year later, the three faced a new challenge - a world-wide pandemic.
“We had to cut staff,” says Joan, “and to reduce our own wages. It forced us to think outside the box and to adjust our menu choices.”
Through it all the three remained committed to reaching out to those around them.
As a business, they donate monthly to the Studio Theatre and provide meals for the staff and residents at the six different homes for the developmentally-challenged. They also assist with an annual Octoberfest for the Perth Enrichment Program for older adults and donate to and host a monthly Memory Cafe for the Alzheimer’s Society.
“We were the first restaurant in town to offer an Alzheimer/Dementia-friendly menu with photos of the food on the menu,” says Joan. “The Lanark County Photo Club took pictures of the food and then we invited them to stick around and help themselves to the food they’d been photographing.”
Sherri, Joan and Kevin remain keenly aware of Maximilian’s place in local history. It’s why they keep one eye on the past and one eye on the future. In between, they’re more than pleased to help the community that has helped them so much over the years.
i“You’re not shy when you wear a hat,” according to Ranelle Larocque, the owner of Queen Bee Millinery in downtown Perth.
It’s a fact that Ranelle discovered quite by chance.
Born on a farm in Manitoba, Ranelle grew up in Yellowknife NWT. A proud northerner, it was here that she met her husband, Rob Marois, a member of the Canadian Armed Forces. Following their marriage, Ranelle often found herself attending formal military functions.
“I was always looking for something to wear so I began to collect vintage hats and to wear them to these gatherings,” explains Ranelle. “They gave me something to talk about. They made me feel good.”
Over time, Ranelle began to look at how the hats were made and in the process discovered something that caught her interest.
“I quickly realized that I could make the hats rather than having to look for them. I had sewn all my life,” says Ranelle who for 10 years did her research before she actually made her first complete hat.
“I started by doing designs on combs or headbands,” she explains. “They’re called fascinators and they proved to be my gateway to making hats.”
Over the years Ranelle and Rob were posted to various locations before they began to look for a place to set up a permanent residence.
Knowing they did not want a city setting, in 2014 the couple purchased a farm near McDonald’s Corners north of Perth.
“It was close to Ottawa and Kingston, two military centers, with other retired military personnel in the area,” Ranelle points out.
It wasn’t long before the couple began to bring their farm to life.
“We have horses and pigs and a Jersey cow,” says Ranelle, who at the same time began to sell her hats online, while Rob commuted to Petawawa and then Ottawa.
In March 2020 Ranelle discovered that a small shop in Perth she had always admired had become available. While she jumped at the opportunity to open her own retail outlet, her excitement was quickly curtailed.
“The opening of the store was to be my 44th birthday present,” laughs Ranelle. “Everything was ready to go. Then we heard the news flash that literally told us to stop what we were doing and go home.”
Covid-19 had hit.
Throughout the pandemic Ranelle continued to work on her creations.
Although hats can be reminiscent of days gone by, “they don’t have to be stuffy,” Ranelle points out. “They can be fun. “
She designs everything herself.
“Each design is a one-of-a-kind piece of wearable art,” she says proudly. Some of Ranelle’s pieces have made their way to the Royal Ascot horse races, as well as the Kentucky Derby.
Ranelle finds inspiration all around her.
“I love nature, flowers, art, sculpture, a window box, a friend’s garden. Sometimes even a song will strike a chord and get me thinking. Making a hat is a very free-flowing process,” she says. “I may start out with a particular idea, but in the end it could look very different.”
For Ranelle the challenge is turning her vision into reality. Not every idea makes it there.
“If I get an idea, I will pin everything and then leave it. I’ll sleep on it and if when I see it the next day, it puts a smile on my face, then I know that it’s a keeper,” she explains.
She will then spend the next couple weeks bringing her creation to the next level.
When complete, every hat, according to Ranelle, has its own personality. It’s just case of waiting for the right person to come along.
“A hat always finds its rightful owner, “declares Ranelle confidently..
“It’s hard not to feel good when you’re wearing a hat,” she explains. “It gives you the confidence to be who you are.”
The other thing that has given Ranelle a boost is the support she has been given by her fellow business owners.
“It makes you feel like you’re not alone,” explains Ranelle whose colorful creations and warm smile have brought a welcome spirit to Perth’s downtown business community.
Mary Catherine and Dan Allat weren’t always on the same career path.
Following university May Catherine decided to go teacher’s college, while Dan enrolled in a hospitality & hotel management program at George Brown College.
It wasn’t long, however, before Dan realized it probably wasn’t the right time for the couple to venture into the restaurant industry, so he got his teaching certificate and both he and Mary Catherine ended up working at schools in the Ottawa area.
Eventually, the couple had two boys and began to look for a more rural setting in which to raise their family. While Dan was from Hamilton, Mary Catherine’s family was from the Ottawa area and had a cottage on the Rideau. As a result, the couple often visited the Perth area.
In 2009 when they spotted a home they liked, they moved their family to Perth where Mary Catherine left work to look after the boys, while Dan continued to commute to his teaching job in Kanata.
During his time in the classroom, Dan never gave up his desire to open a restaurant.
“You can put the dream to bed, but it keeps waking up,” reflects Dan.
It was while playing for the Lanark Highlanders Rugby Club that Dan learned that O’Reilly’s Pub, a popular Perth eatery, might be for sale.
“I thought we’d approach the owners about a purchase,” says Dan and with Mary Catherine on board that’s what they did.
“When we approached them about selling, I think the fact that we were a local family committed to the community was an important selling point to them,” says Mary Catherine.
Their offer was successful and in April 2012 the couple took over ownership of O’Reilly’s Ale House.
At the time the pub enjoyed a reputation that Dan and Mary Catherine wanted to build upon.
“We wanted it to have the feel of a neighborhood pub where people gathered as much for the company and camaraderie as they did for the food and drink,” says Dan. “It was to be a place where one could meet and make new friends.”
Even the seating arrangement set up by Dan was done with the expressed purpose of facilitating conversation as well as the enjoyment of food.
“From the beginning we wanted the pub to be a place where not only did we want to hang out, but so did our staff and our customers. We figured if it was a place where we wanted to be, then others would feel the same. It was to be a place where people could enjoy themselves.”
While Dan and Mary Catherine remained true to their vision, they knew that their staff would be critical in helping them to achieve it.
“We selected our staff carefully,” recalls Dan. “We wanted people who wanted to be here, who appreciated the environment and felt invested in the operation the same as we did.”
It’s a philosophy that has served Dan and Mary Catherine well. While the restaurant industry, as a whole, has a substantial turn-over rate and at times struggles to find workers, the Allatts have maintained a loyal staff.
Dan admits the hospitality industry is a tough place to make a living, but says he and Mary Catherine have never looked back.
“I love it too much to complain,” laughs Dan who says they’ve never questioned the decision.
The fact that Dan and Mary Catherine are great supporters of their community is reflected in the way they run their business. Much of their product is sourced locally, including their beef from River Run Farms.
“We want to support the local farmers and to showcase their skills by integrating their food into our menu,” says Dan.
The fact that they are parents has also played a critical role in shaping the couple’s business outlook.
“Parents still want to go out, but they want it to be a kid friendly atmosphere,” says Dan. “From the beginning, we wanted O’Reilly’s to be a place for families too.”
These days it’s a philosophy exemplified by the fact the couple’s two boys, Jackson and Oliver, both work at the restaurant.
O’Reilly’s is a family affair and Dan and Mary Catherine wouldn’t have it any other way.
Tish Giroux is proud of her heritage and has surrounded herself with visible signs of that pride.
“I’m of Irish and Scottish descent and I’ve always loved my roots and where I come from,” says Tish Giroux who grew up on a dairy farm in Donegal near Eganville, Ontario.
For the past 37 years Tish has lived in Lanark County where she and her husband, Gerald, have raised their three sons.
“I had always entertained the notion of opening my own business, but whenever I talked about it, people thought I was crazy,” recalls Tish. “Over time, however, I talked about it so much that my husband finally said: ‘OK put your money with your mouth is.’”
So in April 2009 Tish did just that when she took the plunge and opened the Irish-Scot-Tish Shop in downtown Perth.
“With the recession, I heard a lot of negatives, but my husband was right, it was time for me to jump in and get my feet wet,” she explains. “I decided to start small and see what happens.”
Drawn by the things she loved, Tish stocked a selection of Celtic-themed music and jewelry, Aran jumpers (sweaters), wool blankets, tartan ties, dishes, rugby shirts, Irish caps, some clothing for the wee ones and more, much of which she sourced in Ireland and Scotland.
Tish and Gerald obtained the right to carry and sell the Lanark Highlands tartan and currently stock long ties, table toppers, table runners and sashes.
If Tish doesn’t have a particular item in stock, she can direct her customers to a likely source. Despite receiving requests, Tish has never ventured into the making of kilts.
“It takes many years to learn how to make a kilt,” points out Tish who does keep a list of kilt-makers so she can make recommendations to her customers.
From the outset Tish maintained a guest book in the store which indicated that her customers came from around the world.
These days she says they are really missing the Perth Kilt run which is usually the third Saturday in June. Both Tish and Gerald would like to thank Mary and Terry Stewart and all the volunteers involved in the run for all the joy it brought.
Missing the sound of the Highland pipes, last summer Tish hired two pipers to walk the streets of Perth in order to give them a Celtic feel.
“They were a big hit,” recalls Tish.
One of the things that TIsh is most proud of is the furniture in her shop. It belonged to a gentleman from County Wexford in Ireland who is a good friend of Tish’s family.
It’s obvious that for Tish Giroux her heritage plays an important part in both her life and her business.
Peter’s Restaurant & Bakery comes by its family atmosphere naturally.
Following their take-over of Peter’s in 2014 the restaurant quickly became home to both Chelsea and Mitch Fowler, as well as their children Liv and Liam.
“Both the kids spent their high school years working here” says Chelsea. “In fact, they still do. Liv is currently on maternity leave, but expects to return a day or so a week and Liam, who now lives in Ottawa, still helps us with our social media.”
When they bought the restaurant Chelsea and Mitch knew they were taking over a long-standing local tradition. There had been a restaurant at that location in downtown Perth since the time John Reid opened a fish & chip stand there back in 1941.
Most people growing up in Perth in the fifties and sixties knew it as the Bright Spot until Tony Noonan bought it in 1969 and opened Noonan’s Restaurant. Eventually, it was taken over by Tony’s son, Peter, who renamed it Peter’s Family Fare Restaurant.
“I certainly knew the place as a young girl growing up in Perth,” recalls Chelsea who was born and raised here and whose family has well-established roots in the area.
“My grandfather’s (Dr. Kidd) picture hangs in the hall at the Great War Memorial Hospital,” Chelsea points out proudly.
Following graduation from PDCI, Chelsea became a certified Dental Assistant and worked for fifteen years in the office of Perth’s Dr. Bob Chaplin.
“I loved every minute of it,” says Chelsea. “To this day, Bob and I are still good friends.”
Despite her love for what she was doing, Chelsea harbored a passion for food and the restaurant business. So much so that she’d occasionally tend bar at Maximilian’s while working at the dental office during the day.
When Peter’s Restaurant became available, Chelsea and Mitch, whom she met when they were both working at Home Hardware, decided it was time to follow their hearts and dreams.
From the outset, their goal was to ensure that their restaurant was a place where people felt “at home.”
“We wanted everyone to consider a seat at the restaurant to be like it was a chair in their living room,” says Chelsea.
Over the years many have done just that. Some customers are so regular that “we have their table set before they get here,“ laughs Chelsea.
For such people the pandemic has been especially difficult, particularly the seniors whose daily trip to Peter’s are often the highlight of their day. Many come to chat and visit, as much as they do to eat.
“Sometimes you don’t realize how large a part you play in their life,” reflects Chelsea. “Recently one of our regulars passed away and the restaurant and staff were mentioned in his obituary.”
These days Chelsea and her staff phone some of the regulars just to check in on them to make sure they’re doing OK and occasionally to bring them food.
“It's a difficult time,” says Chelsea. “We are all feeling the effects of isolation and maybe a little unmotivated and uninspired.”
The challenge of the pandemic struck home to Chelsea most recently when her husband Mitch suffered a heart attack. He was rushed to the Heart Institute where he underwent a triple bypass. It was a bit of a wakeup call.
“This has been a trying time for all of us and a bit of a reminder that we need to put ourselves and our health first” says Chelsea.
“Stress is high and business owners often put themselves last....we need to take care of ourselves,” she advises her fellow business owners.
It’s times like these that remind Chelsea just how important the extended Peter’s family is her life.
From the outset, Chelsea and Mitch chose their staff carefully.
“We wanted those who shared our vision,” says Chelsea. “We wanted those who had a welcoming personality.”
It was a philosophy that has worked well and over the years, the couple have been rewarded with a loyal and dedicated staff.
“I love going to work,” says Chelsea. “The Peter's family is a community I'm very grateful for.”
It’s also a sentiment shared by many of her customers as well.
Like many teenagers Cheryl Straby liked to follow the latest fashions, but lacked the means to get the clothes she wanted and her mother was often reluctant to bail her out.
“She didn’t like to give me money for new clothes, especially jeans, but she didn’t mind taking me to the fabric store to buy material,” recalls Cheryl. “So I soon learned that the quickest and easiest way to expand my wardrobe was to make my own clothes.”
Taking things into her own hands began a journey for Cheryl Straby that would see her clothing in some of North America’s best-known boutiques.
Following high school Cheryl enrolled in the fashion design program at Ryerson University in Toronto. It was here she developed the technical skills needed for sewing, pattern drafting and design.
“Design is very technical” says Cheryl. “You need to work hard at learning and developing those skills, because if you don’t have them you’ll never be able to get out what’s in your head.”
When she graduated from Ryerson in the early 80’s, Cheryl immersed herself in Toronto’s vibrant fashion industry.
Her career would take on a life of its own when Cheryl discovered she needed a winter coat.
“At the time I was working as an assistant designer for a company in Toronto and decided I needed a full-length winter coat,” recalls Cheryl. “So I started to experiment with scraps of leather off the cutting room floor and slowly pieced together a design.”
When Cheryl was finished her coat, she began to wear it around Toronto. To her surprise, women stopped her on the street and asked her where she got it.
“When I made the coat, I really had no idea if it was something good or it was junk,” recalls Cheryl.
The story of the coat continued in 1987 when Cheryl left it on the rack by the studio door. That particular day, by chance or fate, a buyer from Vancouver was visiting and noticed the leather coat.
“She asked my boss if it was part of a new collection.”
When the buyer, who owned boutiques in Banff, Vancouver and Whistler, proceeded to place an order for the coat, Strévé Design was born.
Under the original Germanic spelling of her surname, Cheryl began to create her own line of leather coats and handbags.
“My first couple of years were great,” recalls Cheryl.
Then the recession hit in 1990 and she realized people weren’t buying big ticket items. It was then that Cheryl introduced a line of accessories and scarves to her line, as well as jewellery.
“I didn’t do t-shirts or sweatshirts. That’s really not my thing,” she concedes.
Along the way, Cheryl continued to take night courses, including one on entrepreneurship.
“You create to sell, but you also have to sell in order to create,” says Cheryl about the relationship of art to business.
The fashion industry is a tough business with most of the money needed upfront before anything is actually produced or sold.
As a means of saving money, after eight years in Toronto, Cheryl returned to Lanark County where she continued her design business from her parent’s home near Hopetown.
Looking for a larger space, in July 2009 Cheryl opened a small boutique in downtown Perth.
Ten years later she relocated to a former feed mill where she added a second level art gallery representing established and emerging artists. In addition, Cheryl featured locally-made jewelry and hand weaving that compliments her designs.
During the pandemic she used her time to create new designs and to hone her business skills through webinars on a wide range of topics.
“You do what you have to do to get by,” Cheryl reflected. “When you own your own business, failure isn’t an option.”
Throughout it all Cheryl has remained true to her vision.
“When you create something you feel the reward of accomplishment,” she says. “The journey is the enjoyable part. It’s not all work.”
Recently that feeling was confirmed when Strévé Design was presented a runner-up award by the MERA Award of Excellence in Fine Arts and Fine Crafts for 2021.
It’s been a journey full of surprises and accomplishments for Cheryl. The truth is no one knows what will happen when they go looking for a winter coat.