Getting Toronto to Shop in Welland More.

Mom2011 001Are you Welland proud?  Recently, I saw a Facebook post trashing Welland by a Wellander. It felt like a personal kick in the gut.  No one can dispute that Welland has suffered from economic down turns and shifts to cheaper labour pools.  Nowhere is that more evident than in our downtown core. But a city’s downtown is its soul.  The city’s history is written on those store fronts. Many personal memories are etched on those bricks. When we insult our city and our downtown in particular, we strike at the core of who we are.

I didn’t grow up in Welland but when my family moved here 30+ years ago, there was still a healthy downtown.  Living in East Welland means we have watched the downtown decline day after day, year after year as we have driven the East Main St. stretch to access other parts of Welland.  Yet we chose to locate our business in the downtown core 12 years ago because we believe in Welland’s soul.  The drive down East Main St. has changed since we set up shop here on Avenue Place.  Store fronts are being restored and there are now some solid businesses that are here to stay.  Most certainly, city hall moving downtown helped begin that move but if we want the trend to continue there are three areas of progressive initiatives that need to be forwarded: redefinition, reinforcement and reconnaissance.

Redefinition

Essential to revitalization is redefinition.  Declining;  Blighted; Dirty; Rundown.  These are words to be expunged from our vocabulary.  Let’s begin to speak of Welland’s re-emergence;  its potential;  its historical heritage; its re-development.

But words are not enough. There are strategies and actions that achieve redefinition.

Pride:  We start by picking up our pride and picking up garbage. Kudos to the Project Downtown team who organized a clean-up day a few weeks ago!  Effective bylaws that govern the pickup of garbage in the downtown area on pick up day are also important.  When recycling containers sit on the street too long, they get blown over and their contents from spill over the street.

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Beautification:  When the downtown looks good we feel pride and we don’t drop that garbage in the first place. Flowers;  reflection ponds with water  features; well kept gardens and canal pathways; an iconic historic bridge with paint that is NOT PEELING! All these elements are essential to redefining our downtown.   Equally important are measures that require absentee owners to maintain attractive storefronts of empty buildings.

Safety:  When we first set up shop downtown, people would ask us if we felt safe being here.  To be honest, I didn’t at first. We often fear what we don’t know. In the 7 months that it took to renovate our store I came to know the neighbourhood and realized there were no boogie men hiding in shadows. Instead I became part of a community that was committed to making the neighbourhood safer.  Local police have assisted business owners to make practical changes that improve safety.  People are taking responsibility for making it safer. It is amazing how fast youngsters climb down from where they ought not to be when you point you phone camera at them! Today, no one asks us if we feel safe because visitors feel safe.

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Events:   Only by coming downtown and experiencing it will people redefine their attitudes about it. People need to experience its beauty, its potential and historic value to redefine those attitudes. Only by coming downtown will they experience the safe feeling that those of us who are here all the time know.   This is why planning special events that bring people downtown is so important.  Easter egg hunts; music events at our beautiful amphitheatre;  street dances;  parades.  All these are opportunities for people to come downtown and to be impressed by what Welland is becoming.

Streetscaping:  This winter I had the opportunity to attend the Niagara Active Transportation Summit.  We learned about the development of “complete streets”.  These are city planning models that encourage  people to walk, cycle and use public transportation.  These models help to revitalize downtown cores.  It is a multifaceted concept and I encourage you to read the report at Healthy Living Niagara’s site.

The eyes of visitors see something different than the eyes of Wellanders.  When Toronto comes to Welland to shop, I hear their comments.  They see a beautiful town. They feel safe as they stroll along the canal and take pictures. They take pictures of our historic buildings.

So how do we get Toronto to shop in Welland more? It starts with Welland taking pride in itself.

Continue Reading:  Reinforcement

If you would like to read our earlier article, “Why Toronto Shops in Welland” please click here.

Lest we forget the sacrifice…

IMG_3602Those of us who are the children of Dutch post war immigrants grew up not only under the shadow of World War Two but also with a profound sense of appreciation for the sacrifices Canadians made to liberate The Netherlands.  On May 5 Liberation Day will be celebrated again.  This year marks the 70th anniversary! Seventy years ago Dutch citizens pulled all their Dutch and orange flags out of hiding and flew them with overwhelming joy from their roof tops as the Canadian troops paraded through the streets.  We are honoured to have these orange t-shirts available to remember that special day. Come by the Pantry for yours.

Weaving it together locally in Welland

IMG_3591Bernice Thibeault of the Niagara Handweavers and Spinners came by to check out our new tea towel designs. The weavers meet every Thursday at the Welland Historical Museum.  Join them at 9 am to see what they are up to. A $40 membership provides  lessons in weaving and allows you to join in at the looms each week.  It also gives you a year membership at the Welland Historical Museum.  You can pick up a pamphlet there.

Almost too good to use!

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Just arrived! Twelve new tea-towel and hand towels designs.  Together with the other popular designs already in stock, you can now choose from more than 40 designs.  Many are available in several different colours.

These European made towels are from the 5D company.  The 5 D’s are 5 words: “Die Doekt Die Direkt Droogt”.  Translated this means “The cloth that dries quickly”. Made from non-mercerized cotton, these towels are super absorbent but also dry quickly to be used again. But you might not want to use them…they so lovely!

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Why Toronto shops in Welland.

Yesterday, a customer came in confessing that he was twenty minutes down the road home to Toronto when he realized he had forgotten to stop by our store before leaving. He turned around. Last weekend we had a group of Torontonians come by. Immigrants from Russia, they were in town to see the historic Welland Canal.  We also have people coming in regularly for family in Toronto because they can’t find products at home. These incidents got me thinking about this shift. I grew up just outside of Toronto. In those days, we often traveled to “the city” to purchase products not available in our moderately large city. Now people travel to outside the city to shop.  Why? Most certainly, internet has changed the environment. Well maintained websites allow businesses in smaller communities to connect with customers on a provincial and even broader level. But I think there are also other factors at work. Welland is representative of many post-industrial towns. As factories closed we were left with more brown fields than green fields. The children of the post-war immigrants who had settled here left for those greener fields that we no longer could offer. Frequently, that meant Toronto and other larger centers. There are those who love the hustle and bustle of city life but there are also those who yearn for the simpler, stronger roots they remember in communities like Welland. People are coming home to visit and even retire.

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But not everyone I meet once lived in Welland. Those of us who have remained here often take for granted the attractions that Welland possesses.  We have a rich resource in the recreational canal.  People come to trace the history of the Welland Canal commemorated in many ways like above. Others come for the water sports hosted here.  This summer we will host racing events for the Dragon Boat races and Pan Am games.  The walking and biking trails on Merrit Island draw many visitors every year. This summer our outdoor waterside amphitheatre will stage musical events again. These visitors shop in Welland. People tell me that Welland has the best farmer’s market in Niagara. People travel to shop there. We benefit from The European Pantry’s location adjacent to that market. Proximity is important, so let’s not forget that Welland is next door to many wineries. There are also huge advantages to shopping in smaller communities like Welland. Yes, there are ethnic delis in Toronto but unless you live in the neighbourhood one has to battle traffic and find parking to shop there.

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High land values necessitate squeezing product into much smaller stores to keep prices competitive. I thought our store was tiny until I visited Toronto stores like the one pictured above.  These stores do a good business but the shopping experience is much different. People who grew up in Europe tell us that stepping into our store is like going home.  We brag that we have Niagara-on-the-Lake atmosphere with Welland prices. In Welland we can create an iconic store atmosphere and offer low prices. And that is the crux of why Toronto shops in Welland.  We offer a break from the city: cultural, historical and recreational opportunities; a relaxed environment where people wave you into the parking spot they were about to take; a milieu where shop keepers have time to talk about food not just sell it to you. We need to stop apologizing for what we no longer are.  We need to catch the vision of what we can become. There in will be the salvation of post-industrial towns like Welland.

Surprises are nice but…

IMG_2265At The European Pantry, we keep a container of leftover cheese pieces from our sampling sessions.  I try to label them but sometimes I pick up a piece neatly wrapped but with no label.  I like all the cheeses we sell so I don’t mind these surprises when I am making myself a snack or something for lunch as I work. Today though, I have to admit that the horseradish cheddar on my lunch bagel came as a bit of a shock after the first half bagel slathered with European peanut butter.

It reminded me of the stories of a friend whose parents had trouble making ends meet when he was growing up in the 1960’s.  Some nights they had dented can surprise. In those days it wasn’t uncommon for stores to clear out cans that had lost their labels and also experienced the hard knocks of life at discount prices.  Russ told me that for some reason cans of peaches and fruit salad seemed to show up a lot. Not a bad dessert for the 60’s but hard to make a meal out of.  Other nights when his mother was asked about that night’s menu they were told it was something that would stick to their ribs.  That meant only porridge was left in the larder. Dented can surprise would have seemed like a luxury on porridge nights!

Labels are important but we tend to take them for granted if we don’t live with visual impairments.  My horseradish surprise was well timed because I had just read an article about how braille ended up on wine bottles. It took one person who began to imagine life in someone else’s shoes… click here to read “The Story of How Braille Wound up on Wine Bottles.”.

Bellavitano Espresso Cheddar…dark notes of Jazz!

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Do you associate food with music?  One of our many special cheeses, Bellavitano Espresso Cheddar conjures up dark notes of jazz for me!  This is a reserve cheddar that has been rubbed in espresso for a rich taste that lingers on the palate. In contrast, Bellavitano Raspberry Cheddar has a fresh fruity finish that brings Chopin to mind.  Come in, taste our cheese every Saturday.  Tell us what you are hearing!