COLUMN: Opening up Squamish’s Empire Of Dirt

Facing higher rent, the eclectic downtown Squamish retail store diversifies by welcoming other artists into the space

We've all heard that diversity in your investment portfolio is a good thing — but one shop owner has really taken the axiom to heart.

Laura Bradley, in addition to being a jewelry maker, is the owner of Empire Of Dirt, a retail store on Cleveland Avenue that caters to those who desire curated gifts, local art, home décor, and unique vintage furnishings. Over the past year, she has seen her rent rise to an untenable rate and consequently has had to rejig her business plan more than once.

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"They've just skyrocketed," she said. 

Source: Kirsten Andrews

Wanting to avoid the shuttering that some of her fellow retailers have experienced, Bradley opted to open her doors wider and invite in another permanent business and tenant, as well as a variety of pop-up shops. She's also open for business seven days a week.

"My idea was always to showcase local artists. There's not much retail space on the street — or anywhere for that matter — and the farmers' markets are always so busy but then everyone packs up and you can't find anything, so I was like, ‘why can't I have a store that has their stuff in here full-time?'" asked Bradley, whose hot-sellers include art by Whistler Metal Works, Howe Sound Soapworks, and her own repurposed antique silverware jewelry.

It was over three years ago that she launched her business in the 2,700 sq. ft. space. Since then commercial rents have only headed north.

"I think a lot of people are up against this. The most a lot of people can afford is a little booth. But I feel like I'm finally just getting my groove.

"So, you know, after a bit of wine and some conversations with supportive girlfriends, my only option was to rent out spots," she said with a laugh, adding that locals can expect a diverse selection of workshops and classes in this year.

Many of these workshops will be hosted by fellow creative and new tenant Krista Kendall. Kendall is the owner of Junction137, which focuses on classes, hobbies, and gifts.

"We're going to be doing anything from crochet to felting to DJ classes. It's going to cover a wide range of interests. Anything around personal development, creativity, and self-expression," said Kendall, who has a background in teaching art. "Right now we are focusing on adults and older kids, but I'm going to see what more we can do to accommodate younger ones."

Kendall said Junction137 will provide all levels of classes, from beginners right through to advanced, and take into account that a lot of participants want to go home with something they can either use or put in their home.

"People can come in and work on a small project and take it with them. Or it could be a skill you're building over time."

Kendall's personal philosophy of balance dictates what she offers for sale and experience.

"I've spent a lot of time on my own personal development and in everything I do here I consider the eight facets of life: That includes contribution, body, self-reliance, relationships, philosophy, emotional quotient, and surroundings. That's why I have a monthly charity — it falls under contribution this month we chose PBS," she said, grinning and gesturing widely. "Hence the Bob Ross pieces." 

Source: Kirsten Andrews

Kendall will also feature monthly artists, like clothing designer Valerie Nagy. Nagy's on-point designs can be found toward the back of the shop and more like versatile, wearable art pieces than anything you'd find on the rack in a typical shop.

"Basically, it's up to the featured artists as to what they want to do, and what they want to put in the shop — even if they want to sell or not sell."

The addition of workshops and classes, which Bradley herself will get in on teaching a few of, seems to be a niche that was left vacant in the downtown area when Up With Art closed its doors last year.

"It's hard to see people struggling to make their dreams a reality in this difficult economy," said Bradley. "I've been fortunate.

"I'm making it work. We've already had a really great year."

~Kirsten Andrews is The Chief's monthly business columnist. 


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