behind the scenes
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.