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One street, four shops: There’s high value in coming together and, in the small business community, that means everything

By Christine Drage
Streetscape of Water St. in Peterborough

Written by Paul Rellinger

Community is more than a group of people living in close proximity of one another.

Community is also a feeling of fellowship with others that is forged by the sharing of common attitudes, interests and goals.

On a stretch of Water Street in downtown Peterborough, community is alive and well; a sincere and unselfish we’re-all-in-this-togetherness anchored by a shared belief that when one succeeds, all succeed.

Sandra Young realized her dream in 2019 when she opened her vintage clothing boutique Statement House at 378 Water Street. She clearly recalls the day the owner of a soon-to-open vintage item shop told her of her plan to locate across the street from her business.

“She was pleasantly surprised when I said ‘That’s amazing’…I think she was worried I was going to freak out on her,” recalls Young.

“I make it a point to get know my neighbours. It’s important to have community. It’s felt when there’s a community spirit. That’s what downtown Peterborough really needs. We need to hold hands. We need to band together and ask ‘What can we do to make people think about shopping downtown first.’”

Sandra Young, Statement House Owner

At East City Knife Co., next door at 376 Water Street, owner Chris Carvalho couldn’t agree more, noting his entrepreneurial neighbours wholly understand that “a rising tide lifts all boats.”

“In a sense, these are my colleagues,” says Carvalho, who first opened the doors of his knife sharpening and repair shop in June 2022.

“Supporting one another is hugely important. Being an entrepreneur can be kind of lonely. You don’t have people to confide in. It’s good to have people to talk to.”

That’s not only good but vital, says Erin Watson, the owner of 2017-opened Watson & Lou that, at 383 Water Street, is home to an eclectic collection of local goods and studio spaces.

“Entrepreneurs leaning on other entrepreneurs is the only way we’re going to survive,” says Watson, adding

“Not many people know what it takes to be an entrepreneur. There are so many ups and downs. Being able to walk next door to Needles In The Hay and ask ‘Are you having a tough month or is it just us?’ It’s nice to know you’re not alone when things get a bit stressful.”

Across the street at his homemade donut and coffee shop Tragically Dipped, owner Mike Frampton knows a thing or about stress, having seriously burned out at his prior job. In his happy place at 386 Water Street since April 2022, it’s not lost on him that the support and encouragement of his business community has been, and will be, key to any success he reaps.

“Our block is doing great things…we’re all trying to encourage each other,” says Frampton, noting “We all want Peterborough to be a vibrant thing. Let’s push on with some big hugs and see what happens.”

What’s happening on Water Street between Simcoe and Hunter Streets is nothing short of a rebirth. Not all that long ago, the area’s principle attraction was the artful graffiti drawn on plywood boards covering closed shop windows. There is new life now, and that has as much to do with vendors’ optimism and collaboration as it does with their products and services. Arguably more so.

But there’s something else going on here that has played, and continues to play, a role in their support of each.

All are graduates of Starter Company Plus, a business training and mentorship program administered locally by Peterborough & the Kawarthas Economic Development. Basically, each is coming from the same place and that is yet another tie that brings them together.

Frampton recalls his Starter Company Plus experience as “my stepping stone into all of this…you can’t not gain from it” while Watson says the program, which she enrolled in with her then partner Anna Eidt, “was a good way for us to hone in on what was going to work and what wasn’t.”

Similar sentiments are voiced by Young and Carvalho, with the former noting the program is a prime example of a wider local business ecosystem that aspiring and accomplished entrepreneurs can, and should, tap into. For his part, Carvalho terms his Starter Plus Company experience “a launch pad” from which good things flowed.

Four very different shops. Four equally diverse personalities greeting customers at each but each cognizant of the pressing need to support one another by supporting one another via their social media feeds and by word of mouth, and, yes, with their wallets.

“Chris (Carvalho) will come in and get a donut and coffee,” says Frampton.

“I’ve bought knives and had knives sharpened by him. Watson and Lou…I bought my dad’s birthday present there. Little things like that are huge. Maybe someone comes and gets a donut and coffee, leaves and then gets a book next door at the bookstore.”

Dollars made locally and spent locally…and not just on Water Street. The success of each of these shops equates to success for the city and the region.

“When it comes to creating a circular economy, it’s important to spend your money locally,” says Watson, adding “It’s going to all these different avenues – suppliers, transportation, materials.”

It takes a lot off eggs to make donuts. Frampton can’t hatch them. Instead, he buys his eggs direct from a Keene farmer. His coffee is sourced locally as well. And then there’s the money that’s going into the pockets of each shop’s employees. They too are spending their dollars locally.

“We’ve got sort of a double dip here on keeping money local because of our consignment model,” notes Young.

“When people shop here, they’re shopping local twice. They’re giving somebody a little bit of money for garments they’re not wearing anymore, so they’re being good to the environment, and they’re being good to the store.”

So it is that all good things spring from community. No better example exists than what has transpired, and is still evolving, along this refreshed stretch of Water Street. The beauty lies in the fact that this collaborative entrepreneurial spirit that can be easily emulated and capitalized on.

“You spend more time at work than you do at home, so these people are truly my neighbours,” says Carvalho.

“None of us are in competition with the other. There’s enough to go around and we’re kind of all in it together. We may have come from different careers or whatever but we all took a chance. We took a risk to do what we love to do. There’s a lot of commonality there.”

That, when all is said and done, is the tie that binds, and the subsequent inherent benefits to the community beyond Water Street can’t be overstated. But more than that, their experience provides yet further proof that Peterborough has been, and remains, a great place to follow one’s entrepreneurial dream.