As relatively new business owners, we’re learning a lot about our community and running a local, independent business. I just read on Fountain Pen Network about a New York fountain pen bricks & mortar closing down, which is terrifying considering we just got into this business -Art Brown was practically a tourist destination for pen fountain pen enthusiasts whenever they were in New York…and most fountain pen people who live in Toronto may have just barely heard of us!
Wonder Pens is located on a small strip of Dundas between Bathurst and Ossington, with a very small BIA. Really, it’s a small stretch of Dundas, but it’s also a very committed and involved BIA because so many of the businesses here are local, independent businesses. When we opened our doors, we had quite a few of the local business owners come by to say hello and introduce themselves. They’re very passionate about what they do – it’s a lot of creative businesses, especially – but they’re also very passionate about our community and how we can improve it.
When the businesses in the area are supported, the whole community begins to benefit as well – trees get planted along the streets, benches or lights are installed. I read a statistic that says for every $100 spent at a local business, $45 goes back into the community and city, as opposed to $14 when you buy from a large chain or from out of the country.
We’ve had a few disappointments and learning lessons: for example, sometimes we get people who are interested in the pens we carry and who will come in to try the pens out, and then purchase them online where they can get a better deal, usually directly from Japan. It’s frustrating because we have some price restrictions we can’t break, or we risk our relationship with our companies or distributors, but we’re also offering services at our own cost in order to have “test” pens for you to pick up and dip and write with. Especially because we have our own online website, we try our best to be competitive against US and international online sites, but there are just some products or companies who set our prices for us.
I can’t help but imagine that the burgeoning online market played a role in Art Brown closing down. We are so encouraged by our repeat customers who come up on their lunch break, or who bring their friends to check out our ink testing, or who bring us print-outs of new products we should order, or who take advantage of being able to try pens that they haven’t seen before, or who just come up for a nice chat about what’s happening in our neighbourhood. We can only keep our fingers crossed for the future of independent businesses.
I love that I can walk around our little strip, and I know the faces and names of the shop owners and employees. There are shops here that sell handmade, quality goods, or baked-fresh tea biscuits, or design their own clothes, or galleries where community artists are on display…the list goes on in these beautiful, unique, hard to find items.
I love that I just looked out my front door and waved at a community resident, whose kids love to stop by and doodle with the pens. I think her daughter has her heart set on a transparent Kaweco Sport for when she graduates from the sixth grade.