TBT: It all started with Hooker brick

33 Maple St (Hooker House)

33 Maple St (Hooker House)

Ever wondered why we have a Hooker Street in Welland…? Sorry! No historic red light district here. Many of Welland’s older houses were made of brick from Thaddeus Hooker’s brick works just south of Hooker Street in Welland. Thaddeus’ classic “Ontario” house circa 1856/7 was probably the first brick house in all of Welland. Read more about the history of 33 Maple St.

To find your way here: Welland Historical Sites Walking Tour


A Greek twist: spanokopita

IMG_3700Garden salad, carrots and broccoli with lemon herbs, spanokopita twists with braised peppers and chicken.

IMG_3697Garden salads are so easy…just use whatever is fresh at the moment….I usually start with romaine lettuce or a spring mix which contain more vitamins than iceberg. Did you know that red peppers contain more vitamin C than green peppers?  They are also so much sweeter.

IMG_3698   I season chicken breast with Verstegen Marinade spices and then braise them with peppers.  I usually don’t feel like bothering to fire up the BBQ for just the two of us so my trusty cast iron pan does the honours with a bit of olive oil but this is a delicious BBQ option…just cut the peppers in larger pieces or skewer them.

IMG_3702   I throw my carrots into the pan first and let them blanch for a few minutes first in the boiling water before I add the broccoli florets. You can prep your carrots before work and refrigerate in water with a bit of sugar to save time when you get home and want to get the meal on the table quickly.  The broccoli florets can also be cut up and waiting in a bag in the fridge.

When they are just barely tender I drain the water, add a bit of olive oil and a lemon herb mix, toss and serve.  The spanokopita twists bake in the oven for 30 minutes at 350 F as I prepare the other items. I serve a bit of tzatziki yoghurt dip with the spinach pies. These flakey mini spinach pies now available at The European Pantry!


Getting Toronto to Shop in Welland More: Reconnaissance – part 3

It certainly wasn’t a trip into enemy territory but lots of observation went on. Last Thursday, four members of the Downtown Welland BIA went on a reconnaissance field trip. We were are diverse group:  Julie Barker from McNall and Barker Paralegals; Heather Hudson who owns and is rehabilitating a building in downtown Welland, Stephanie Hicks our Business Development Officer at the DWBIA and myself, Jacqui Eisen, co-owner of The European Pantry.  Our investigative foray included visits to several other downtowns in the Niagara Region to gain insights into what attributes contribute to a healthy downtown community.

As we explored, we asked questions:

  • What characteristics does a healthy downtown exhibit?
  • What types of businesses are thriving?
  • Who are these businesses selling to?
  • Who is investing in these businesses? Where is business capital coming from?
  • What types of business plans appear to be evident?
  • What type of marketing are these businesses using?

Characteristics of healthy downtown business districts areas:


  • Historic buildings and characteristics. Preservation of historic buildings and the historic details of business buildings is vital.  If people want  generic and modern, they will go to a shopping centre.  People gravitate to a downtown because they hope to see buildings of character with stories that are rooted to the history of the community. As I was writing this I did a bit of googling and found this interesting article: http://www2.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/fcs4/fcs4408/fcs4408.pdf
  • Clean well marked streets. Wide safe sidewalks. Sufficient free parking for both cars and cyclists. We had to dodge “doggie do” in one downtown.  That doesn’t contribute to an enjoyable shopping experience.  We noted secure cigarette disposal units in another downtown, something we are hoping to have soon in Welland.
  • Something for everyone. A wide variety of stores that cater to both local population as well as tourists. Higher end shops share the street with “dollar stores”.
  • Eateries post menus on the outside of their buildings. Visitors are leery of walking into a restaurant not knowing if they will like or be able to afford what is served there. When menus are not posted they are more likely to walk past and find the nearest fast food chain where they know what to expect.
  • Friendly, helpful staff that are quick to engage with consumers
  • No visibly empty store fronts. If stores are not occupied, the store fronts are maintained.
  • Integrated residential units. This included upstairs apartments and in one locality we found a beautifully rendered facade in stone that contained…we were surprised…student housing!

We noted the following types of businesses:


  • One or more pharmacies
  • Women’s clothing stores
  • Decor stores and flower shops
  • Interesting eateries that offer a variety of food genres in atmospheric environments in a range of price brackets
  • “Non-chain” dollar stores with cute store fronts
  • Artist cooperatives or outlets that market the creations of a wide variety of artists. The stores focus on local art but allow other Canadian artists to display to ensure good selection
  • Bakeries
  • Specialty food stores that offer imports and domestic products that appeal to foodies and the ethnic buyer
  • A weekly farmer’s market
  • Spas, wellness centers and beauty salons that cater especially to women. We didn’t see any dubious massage parlours, adult entertainment or strip joints. These  are streets that families with young children feel comfortable and safe walking.
  • Professional services such as travel agencies, legal services, dental and medical offices, banks, etc.

Who are these businesses selling to?


  • Ridgeway includes a thriving retirement community within its borders. It was evident that there were many businesses retirees would like to frequent. There was also very deliberate marketing to tourists and to the seasonal lakeside population that moves up from the US
  • Thorold seemed to cater more to the local population but it was as busy as Ridgeway
  • I would say St. Catherines’ clientelle would be similar to Thorold.

It is essential that target populations are considered as businesses are established.  Ridgeway didn’t start with marketing to tourists but as visitors gravitated to its quaint downtown, stores capitalized on this. Eventually shops that cater especially to tourists have sprung up next to stores with year round appeal.  Thorold downtown has been revitalizing in recent years.  I am not sure that Thorold has become a tourist destination but it is clearly thriving.  Welland has great potential to benefit from more tourism. We have key points of historical interest that could be developed more plus ours is the only downtown located on the Greater Niagara [cycling] Circle Route.  Cycling is said to be the new golf. Niagara has become a prime cycling destination because of the variety of attractions and cycling trails. These tourists are riding directly through our downtown along the canal. We are working on getting better signage to direct them into the city centre.  As a business we have contracted to have an icon for The European Pantry placed on the interactive map that is available for cyclers at: http://www.niagaracyclingtourism.com/bike-routes/greater-niagara-circle-route/welland-canal-recreation-trail/   Downtown attraction are already noted on the map. As more businesses buy into this form of advertising, a cluster of icons will form alerting cyclists to Welland downtown as a great stop off destination point.

IMG_3673Currently, only 28 communities of 440 municipalities in Ontario can boast being “bike friendly”.   Of those 5 are in Niagara.  Welland is one of those, currently holding a bronze status. We are working at upgrading that to silver by adding more amenities needed by cyclists such as: more bike racks in our downtown; better signage;  more consistent multi-model transportation; secure storage and parking for bikes; water stations and washrooms; delivery services for cyclists’ purchases.

Who is investing in these businesses? Detailed answers to this question were beyond the scope of our investigations that day but certain patterns could be observed:

  • Families who have a long history in business and particularly in that locality. Brodies Drug store in Ridgeway has been in business since 1902.  Their current renovation work includes conservation of their historic store front.  Welland examples are  AP Brown Jewelers who have been serving Welland since 1910 and Carl Damudes Office Supplies for over 40 years.
  • Persons who have a unique service or product that they believe in.
  • Young retirees who still want to be engaged in an occupation but don’t depend on their business for their income. Second income business owners can also fall into this category. The business is not viewed as a primary income source but rather as an outlet for a personal hobby or interest.
  • Entrepreneurs: visionaries who thrive on developing something new. If successful, these investors do not always remain the owners of the businesses they start because they often sell and move on to new projects. These people are often risk takers and do not always have a lot of start up capital. Therefore, unless they have a viable business plan their  ventures may not succeed.
  • Capital investors who see a healthy potential return on investment. These can be a boon or a bane to a historic downtown area.  Some capital investors are attracted to the unique attributes of a particular historic downtown and wish to invest in the preservation of such.  These investors often step in when a downtown is on the cusp of revitalization. Return on investment is realized because they buy when the real estate prices are still depressed.  These type of investors are a Godsend. The owners of the newly opened TARIS restaurant would fall into this category. However,  another type of capital investors can be a bane.  After local people have rebuilt  their downtown community national chain investors are attracted because they wish to capitalize on the consumer base others have developed.  There is little commitment by these national companies to maintaining the unique character of community.  We did not see this stage of development in any of the localities we visited, however,  I have seen it happen in other towns.  In some cases, this type of investment destroys the historic character that led to the revitalization.  Bylaws that require strict architectural conformity to the historic character of the community can become very important once revitalization has been successful.

What type of business plans are evident?  Successful businesses require viable plans.  Not everyone has enough start up capital to set up shop quickly and carry the business until it returns a profit.  Some businesses require a lot of expensive equipment. Others require a large investment in product.  As noted above, large capital investors will not be attracted until potential for return on investment can be visualized. This means that local people will need to lead the process of revitalization. So how do people without a lot of capital who need to make a living, leverage themselves into the role of successful business owners?  Here are some of the models that we noted:

  • Establish a clientele before opening a storefront. The owner of Niagara Cake Artistry in Ridgeway started her business in her home. Her first investment was a dedicated baking kitchen in her own home that conformed to health code regulations. After quite a few years she had established a clientele for her specialty cakes.  This allowed her to set up a store front.  The square footage of her display area may be small but customers can look down into her kitchen and enjoy watching her bake.  This inviting arrangement also saves on staffing costs because she can bake while she serves customers.  One has to sell a lot of cookies to pay the rent of a store front.  Therefore, usually small shops like this will have a “hidden” form of income by catering special events or through internet sales.
  • Share the cost and risk. Also in Ridgeway, Unique Creations Artisan’s Outlet markets the work of over 100 artists. Artists rent small display areas for a reasonable cost and must pay a 20% commission for the sale of any of their work.  Visual artists selling canvases do not pay rent but must pay a 40% commission.  This business plan has several strengths.  Display area rents probably pay the base rent.  Commission would need to cover staffing costs.  The outlet owner, Tracy Nie, doesn’t have to make a large investment in product but still is able to offer a wide variety of choice to the consumer.  Each article for sale is bar coded and artists are linked in via computer so they can see daily if any of their articles have sold. Artist cooperatives are a similar model.  Here the contributing artists share staffing requirements and the staff member present makes a commission on any product sold during his/her shift.
  • Start small and build. Our deli The European Pantry offers 100s of products from a large variety of importers.  However,  we started our business like a game of Monopoly.  Every time we “passed Go and collected  $200” we invested it in more stock.  We also started our business while one of us was still employed in another job.  Vacation days were used to build the business.
  • Innovative sourcing of product. The owner of the clothing store, Shannon Passero in Thorold takes her designs to Thailand to be produced.  Lorraine Hotchkies,  of L’Atelier du Pays Inc.  in Ridgeway uses the contacts she developed while she lived in Europe to source her product.  A perusal of what’s on offer at Redefined Design here on East Main Street clearly shows that the owner has real purchasing smarts.  As a specialty food retailer I spend a lot of time researching import sources to find food products that my customers crave. One also needs to be savvy when dealing with suppliers.  Know when to buy bulk for savings and when not to invest in quantity.
  • Buy a store front with living quarters above. Those who own their own house can obtain capital by selling that house and moving into the living quarters above their store front.  There are lots of advantages to such an arrangement: no lawn to cut or gardens to maintain; no travel time to work;  loft style living; near proximity to restaurants and other amenities. However, to realize more return on investment some DIY skills will be important if you aren’t coming in with lots of capital.  Remember that historic sells. Therefore, don’t try to make the building look new.  Celebrate its heritage look while bringing the essentials like good heating into the 21st century.
  • Partner with an existing business. Do you have a skill or product that would augment an existing business well? Perhaps you know a business that needs to expand its store space but can only find storefronts with too much space.  Or perhaps a business will trade space for help with staffing. Such arrangements can strengthen existing businesses while helping someone else get a start.

What type of marketing are successful businesses using?  The right type of marketing will vary with the type of  business but here are some things we noted:

  • Many of the businesses we scouted made full use of social media to network with their customers.
  • There is a joke among retailers: What happens to retailers with poor customer service? A. They become wholesalers. If you want to be in retail you need to be genuinely nice. You have to be willing to go the extra mile for your customer. You have to anticipate customer needs and offer extra services like delivery. You want your customers to talk about you to other people but you don’t want them talking smack.
  • Create a strong street/sidewalk presence. Signage is important. So is a storefront that makes people stop and look.
  • You can’t be an island unto yourself. Being involved in the community is a form of marketing.

As we concluded our field trip  we noted that quite in contrast to the military definition of reconnaissance, the towns we visited are our friends.  The business people we talked to showed marked interesting in working together as a region to attract tourists.  The more Niagara becomes a “go to place” the more we will all benefit.  If there are enough attractions to fill several days, visitors will need a place to stay and our accommodation industry will benefit,  too.


Literal reconnaissance, however, is needed though on a more local level.  As mentioned the localities we visited had few if any visibly empty store fronts.  Until investors move in and rehabilitate empty units in our downtown, questions need to be asked about noticeable empty and decrepit storefronts.  Who owns the buildings that are being neglected? Are there property standards that are being violated.  Has the city been informed?  Are these buildings available for sale? What type of potential businesses would be appropriate for them?   How can we work with local realtors to fill these buildings with viable businesses? As good citizens we also need to guard against the incursion of shady and dubious businesses that contribute to a negative downtown identity.

Through Redefinition of how we view Welland; Through Reinforcement of Welland’s strength; And finally, through Reconnaissance:  identification of forces that are threatening our downtown and exploration of new possibilities, Welland can envision a bright, prosperous future.  Join the movement!

When you don’t want to buy something

IMG_3652Finding gluten free products like our gluten free meatball mix has become much easier than it was a few years ago.  Finding products that are GMO free is more difficult.

GMO free you say? Genetically modified organisms.  GMO’s were initially created to boost crop production as a solution to world hunger.  More recently GMOs have been designed to make crops resistant to certain bugs or able to tolerate pesticides. There is a lot of debate about the pros and cons of GMOs, however, most people wish to know what they are buying.

In Canada, there is no law requiring that products containing genetically modified ingredients be labeled accordingly.  In the E.U. that is the law. So we are importing flour from The Netherlands because we want to be able to assure our customers that they aren’t buying something they don’t want.


Source: http://www.loc.gov/law/help/restrictions-on-gmos/netherlands.php

Commercial production of genetically modified (GM) crops has not yet occurred in the Netherlands.[1]  According to a report on biotechnology in the Netherlands issued by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in June 2013, “there are no genetically engineered (GE) crops under development that will be on the market in the next five years.”[2]  However, the Netherlands does import large quantities of GE crops and derived products.[3]  It also transships such imported crops and products to other European Union (EU) countries, or exports them to non-EU countries, using the requisite documentation and labeling required under EU law.[4]  Because cultivation of GE crops is not permitted, GE seed is not imported.[5]  Additionally, because GE products for consumers must be labeled, imported quantities of the products are small.[6]  The main imported GE crops and derived products are soybeans from Brazil and the United States and soybean meal from Brazil and Argentina.[7]  In accordance with EU legislation, the Netherlands has a Low Level Presence policy for unapproved GE varieties in feed.[8]  According to the USDA report, “the Dutch livestock sector depends on feed imports from third countries [that consist] mainly of GE soybean meal.  The livestock sector does not include any GE animals nor do Dutch agricultural research institutes have them for research purposes.”[9]

What’s your coffee footprint?

IMG_3648According to research, coffee is the number one beverage in Canada. Anyone waiting in line for their favourite java is probably not surprised by that. Fast food outlets and single serve coffee machines have shouldered their way in front of the old fashioned drip coffee maker in the quest to fill our coffee mugs each day.

But more and more people are starting to wonder about the effect all this convenience is having on the environment. A truly environmentally friendly option are the Senseo coffee pods that we import from The Netherlands.  At one time the Senseo machines were difficult to find in North America but we have been able to source them for several years now. These machines will give you a frothy espresso style cup of coffee. Customers have told me that you can use the pods in other machines, too.  Senseo coffee pods will compost in a regular backyard unit like a teabag. Senseo is UTZ Certified…a European fairtrade programme.  Click here for information about UTZ.



And then there is the old fashioned drip coffee maker or instant coffee options.  We carry a number of excellent imported coffees and can source many more.

Unfortunately, coffee cannot be grown in Canada. So every cup of coffee has a trail of footprints behind it already.  We can, however, try to limit the impact of those footprints on the local environment and try to ensure that our coffee enjoyment is not at the expense of coffee workers in other countries.

Reinforcement: Getting Toronto to Shop in Welland More – part 2

Do we want Toronto to shop in Welland more? People want life to be better in Welland. Better implies change.  Change is what I was alluding to when I spoke about “Redefinition” in the first part of this series on revitalization. To want better without being willing to change would be absurd.  Nevertheless, Welland has strengths and assets that we would be foolish to change.  Healthy revitalization requires a careful assessment of what we need to move past and what we need to cherish and “Reinforce”.

IMG_3636  Welland is in some ways, Canada in miniature. Officially bilingual. A cultural mosaic that experienced rapid post-war population growth. Like Canada in general it has had to transition from a resource based economy to something else. However, in spite of all the plant closures in the past 20 years, Welland’s population hasn’t declined.  In fact, it actually grew slightly, primarily because it has become a bedroom community for other work centres. People seem to like to live here. I was just talking to someone yesterday who commutes 2 hours to a job north of Toronto. She considered moving nearer to work but has decided to stay local because they found their dream property just outside of town. What makes people stay here? It has to be more than our low housing prices!

One of our greatest assets is our people. I have lived in Welland for over 30 years.  I love the people of Welland: our diverse cultures; our bilingual status; our small town innocence; even our old-fashioned, down-to-earth, working class mentality.

A visit to Welland’s Farmer’s Market underscores the diversity of our cultures. As you stroll through the aisles and along the farmer’s booths, a wide range of languages and accents can be heard.  Most certainly we all harbour loyalties to our particular heritage but yet there is a tolerance and appreciation among the different ethnic groups here in our city. We generally are not divided into racial or ethnic neighbourhoods. We live side by side. We marry across cultures.  I have been particularly aware of this because people coming to our deli, The European Pantry, frequently share their cultural history as they purchase our imported foods. I am not so naive as to think that racism doesn’t exist in Welland. One will find bigots anywhere, nevertheless, we shouldn’t take Welland’s racial harmony for granted. I know a couple who recently found it difficult to find an apartment in another municipality because they didn’t match the demographics of some of the neighbourhoods they considered. People coming from those types of municipalities find the cultural atmosphere in Welland very refreshing. We need to celebrate our diverse cultures through home coming events. Our fall food festival should showcase the foods of Welland’s people rather than mainly carnival food. At the same time, there is a fine line between celebrating culture and cultural insularity. Perhaps we do not have ghettos within Welland but is it possible that Welland has become a ghetto itself? Are we open to newcomers, to people who may look or speak differently than ourselves. If we want to attract Toronto and perhaps the world to Welland, we had better be welcoming when they get here.

IMG_3646  Of all the cultures that built Welland, our French-Canadian roots stand out particularly. Many people driving through Welland do double takes at our bilingual street signs.  Welland and Port Colborne are bilingual anomalies in a primarily English province. Who expects to find a bilingual town so far away from Quebec? Not many communities can boast the French services that are available in Welland. I was particularly interested lately in hearing that there are businesses in France that are looking at locating in Welland because of those services. We need to sell our unique bilingual heritage and status to investors and to French speaking tourists. That means moving past offering services in French to developing and marketing French cultural events. I know not all of us are bilingual. I for one never got much past cereal box French fluency. However, I do speak two languages.  I understand how deeply language and identity are tied. I understand those moments when English just cannot express what I feel. But having grown up in a sub-culture I also know how easily language can divide people. Welland cannot afford to have “Two Solitudes”. We need to practice inclusivity in our differences but at the same time we shouldn’t neglect capitalizing on our valuable bilingual status.

IMG_3634  Welland is a city of churches. Perhaps the majority of Welland sleeps in on Sunday morning but a tour of our streets reveals that the cultures that built Welland brought their faith with them. This is still evident in our community values.  We stop and give funeral processions right of way. Neighbours know and help each other. I have seen people work together to care for the stray cats in a neighbourhood.  There is a kindly respect for life that speaks of an innocence that has remained un-jaded in a world where life is cheap.  This type of life respect recognizes the value of every person.  Someone told me recently of being part of a group of people who aggressively pursued health services for a mentally ill person who was living in appalling conditions. The ill person appeared to not want help but recovered some of her quality of life because of their intervention. Call it good citizenship; call it loving your neighbour; call it naive, old-fashioned; call it what you will but it is a quality that hasn’t been lost yet in Welland. Let’s grab it and hold onto it. Hope is found in the concept that everyone has been created for a purpose. It is that hope that helps people to carry on when jobs are scarce and a better future seems a steep uphill struggle.

IMG_3630  Welland is a working class town and it has never pretended to be anything else. We do not have to apologize for our working class roots but perhaps it is time we accept that we can aspire to more. Our parents and grandparents exemplified a strong work ethic.  I recall an elderly neighbour telling me how proud she was when her husband would leave for work carrying his lunchbox down the street to Atlas Steels. The days of the steel plants are over but if we want a better Welland we better be willing to hard work.  Welland’s future will depend on our willingness to get our hands dirty and bend our backs to the task. However, there are elements of our working class background that need to change. I was talking to a lady who moved to Welland this past year.  She has been shocked at the level of vulgarity she sometimes hears in Welland. Truth be told, if some Wellanders were disarmed of their F-bombs they would have trouble communicating.  She also noted a lack of courtesy by people in reception roles…even at city hall.  If we want Toronto and the world to shop here, we better improve our manners. Working class heritage doesn’t excuse low class behavior.

We want Toronto to shop in Welland but we must not expect Welland’s revitalization to be dependent only on the non-resident consumer. People are one of Welland’s greatest assets. The people of Welland need to shop in Welland. Tourists are a valuable resource but we will come a long way by staying home and shopping in Welland instead of spending our money in other municipalities and particularly across the border.  On that same score though, businesses in Welland must market to its people.  Our business  has been criticized by wholesalers for our low prices.  We always remind the critics that our first responsibility is to Welland shoppers.  We cannot pretend to be in Niagara-on-the-Lake even if people coming to our store say it has that type of vibe.  We live in Welland.  Our business is in downtown Welland. The people of Welland are our customers. So we work hard to make sure they can afford to shop at The European Pantry.  The revitalization of downtown Welland will depend on learning how to appeal to both the local consumer and the visiting tourist.

The people are not Welland’s only asset.  Space in this edition limits me here to a list of our other assets. I will expand on some of these in the “Reconnaissance” portion of this discussion. Here are some of our assets:

  • The Welland Recreational Canal including features like the amphitheatre.
  • A world class rowing facility that attracts events like the Pan Am games and Dragon Boat races
  • An iconic historic lift bridge that is going to be lit “with capabilities of white and coloured LED’s with the structure as the focus of architectural lighting.”
  • The beautiful walking/biking trail on Merrit Island enjoyed so many local people and visitors. The equally beautiful city gardens that say “Welland!” as much as the signs that greet people as they enter town.
  • Close geographic proximity to the tourist populations of Niagara Falls and Niagara’s wineries.
  • The only Niagara municipality that has part of the Greater Niagara Circle Route running through its downtown. Check out http://www.niagaracyclingtourism.com
  • A year round farmer’s market
  • A large community college that attracts students from all over the world
  • Close access to inter-provincial and international transportation
  • Reasonable housing costs
  • Deep historical roots that are evidenced in historical points of interests and multi-generational family ties to the city
  • An educational system that attracts families from both within and outside Ontario who want their children educated in both our national languages
  • A huge art community which is centrally located to allow the enjoyment of theatre and the arts both locally but also from Toronto through to Buffalo
  • A small town community where you know the people you meet at the grocery store and pass on the sidewalk. A place where neighbours talk over the fence.
  • A vibrant sports community where many leading and famous male and female athletes got their start. Welland is also the home town of well known inventors, visual artists, musicians, leading politicians and broadcasters.

Being on the Downtown Welland BIA Board has opened my eyes to many initiatives that are being forwarded by people who really believe in Welland. The above assets will be used increasingly to bring people to Welland. It is time we stop making excuses for why we are not part of positive change.  I encourage you to attend the Community Improvement Plan meeting scheduled for June 1st at 5:45 pm in the Community Room at the Welland Civic Centre. If we want Welland to grow and flourish we need to reinforce these efforts.

Yes, we want Toronto to shop in Welland. And yes, change will be necessary for Welland to be better.  However, let’s remember our cultural heritage and reinforce the values that built this town so that as we grow we continue to respect the value of all our citizens. It is our small town values that make us so appealing to those Toronto shoppers we have been talking about. Small can be beautiful.

Part 3 of this series “Reconnaissance” explores ideas for the development and promotion of Welland.  Read more…