Is community building really that easy?


There’s a new little store in town called Shabby Motley. The shop opened up on a Queen St. just a few doors down from the Outspoken Brewery, which is another local business a handsome pair of homegrown entrepreneurs dreamt up and is set to open in the coming year. The knitting shop and cafe has been an instant success, but not in the way you might think. Sure, the wool on the shelves is gorgeous and the boutique atmosphere is enchanting, but it’s really the lovely ladies who sit there on and off all day who make it such a welcoming place. It’s the thought that when you go in there you’re going to run into someone you know. The big store front windows give you a glimpse of the cozy atmosphere you’re going to walk in to. And, when you’re on the inside looking out you can safely watch the snow fall and the street life pass you by. It’s the warm elegance of the shabby old sofas and the big old wooden tables that make you feel at home. The transformative power that this one little shop is having on the downtown is unbelievable. It really goes to show how much people in the city have been craving community.

Shabby Motley is a wonderful example of that saying: “if you build it they will come.”  In the first week after the shop opened I went in there to get a coffee and while I was looking around I overheard a woman say “see we’re community building right now.” She was so right, it really is that easy. Knitting has taken the city by storm. I’m pretty sure half of the people who go to the store never even gave the hobby any thought, or even knew that it was something they’d like to do, but what they did want was a place to meet friends, a place to hang out for a couple of minutes, a few hours or even all day. They wanted a place where they could learn, where they could engage with each other, talk, enjoy a nice cup of tea or strong cup of coffee, where everything was made by hand, by local people, where they felt like they were supporting a friend.

I know that the Sault will never reach that full on gentrified state that industrial turned creative neighbourhoods like Williamsburg, Brooklyn or Yaletown, Vancouver have. There just aren’t enough people to sustain it, but that’s ok I’d rather have a real experience than a yuppified version of it anyways. Places like Shabby Motley are popping up all around the city, which make me believe in the change that you hear the young creative folks in the City going on about. Places on my radar are the Outspoken Brewery, the ever evolving artist run gallery 180 and of course the Mill Square that may very well revolutionize the entire downtown waterfront.

I think I might have to stick around for a bit – stuff is definitely happening!


6 Comments Add yours

  1. Keith B. says:

    Hi there, I randomly came across your blog while looking up the St. Mary’s Paper Mill redevelopment. My wife and I currently live in Toronto, but are thinking of moving to the Soo for a change of pace. My wife’s originally from there, but has been in Toronto for 20 years; so we’re a little out of touch as to what the city/town can potentially offer a couple in their mid-30s who eat organic (when we can afford it), practice yoga, etc… I’d love to chat further.

    1. marketmaiden says:

      Hi Keith, thanks for writing to me. If you’ve already heard about Mill Square then it just goes to show that things are changing in the Soo… in good ways. Being a city person myself there are a lot of things that take getting used to when you move to a Northern Ontario city. Access to good fresh and preferably organic food year round for example is a challenge. Check out the BuyAlgoma Buyfresh blog, the Algoma’s Farmer’s Market and even better the Johnson’s Farmer’s Market, and Valleyfield Farm. Best place to do Yoga in my opinion is at Jade Wellness Studio. It’s actually better than any studio I’ve been to in Victoria or Vancouver. That’s saying a lot. Except for the hot yoga… they have a hard time getting the room to stay warm. Shabby Motley of course the newest handcraft store in town is a lot of fun and there are some great cafes, namely, Cafe Natura and Dish. We’ve got one happening bar called Loplops. Great music in the summer… all the bands on a Canadian tour have to pass through the Soo. I’ve definitely seen a few good shows in my time here. And, I can’t forget the Art Gallery of Algoma where I work. When I got the job I figured if a city has an art gallery then it has to have at least some culture… right? If you have any more questions shoot me an email and I’d be happy to share more of my experiences.

  2. Chris says:

    And don’t forget us at 69 Church Street – we have a wonderful assortment of treasures, both new and used. Come visit sometime – we are open on Saturdays 10-4. BTW, Shabby Motley is a delightful store and the staff are great too.

    1. Elena Lewis says:

      Yes, that’s also a great little place.

  3. MStoyshin says:

    A great book about the breakdown of community: ‘Bowling Alone’ by Robert Putman

    1. Elena Lewis says:

      Thanks for the recommendation.

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