The thought that counts
Shelby Lendrum is the owner of P'lovers. It was one of the first stores in the city to emphasize local and environmentally friendly products. Photo: Contributed
Shelby Lendrum was 19 when she started working at P’lovers. She remembers well riding her skateboard down Spring Garden Road and visiting the store, then in Park Lane Mall and owned by Liz Crocker and Ann Caverzan. That was in the mid 1990s. P’lovers (named for the endangered Piping Plover; the apostrophe was added as a shortened version of “Planet Lovers”) was one of the only stores in the city specializing in environmentally friendly goods.
More than 20 years later, Lendrum owns the store (on South Park Street). She opened new locations in Mahone Bay and downtown Dartmouth. Lendrum says selling green items was a new movement when she first started.
“As it became cool to be green, more alternatives came out,” Lendrum says. “And it wasn’t long before we realized that this was becoming a thing.”
As the holiday shopping season hits full swing, interest in shopping locally and ethically is going up too.
At The Dart Gallery on Portland Street in Dartmouth, Jane MacDougald sells and displays works of art, all created by local artists. The goods include gift cards, pottery and paintings. She opened her store two years ago, after a stint working for non-profits, and business has been growing ever since.
“Art is really strong here,” she says. “There is a lot to choose from. You are supporting the creative community, which I think is a big part of the economy.”
Besides selling art, she often hosts shows for local artists. “I am blown away by how many fantastic artists there are around,” MacDougald says. “It’s really inspiring and it’s nice to meet so many great people who are creative and interesting. When you get to know the people you want to support it even more.”
For many of these purveyors of local goods, their businesses started out of their love of local and ethical products. At Inkwell on Market Street, 40 per cent of the items on sale are locally made. All of those products are marked with a blue dot to indicate their Nova Scotia origins.
Owner Andrea Rahal says many customers come to the store just to buy the products with the blue dot. The remainder of the stock is from international artists, but always handmade.
“You know the money is going back to the maker,” Rahal says. “You know time and care went into making it. You know that the item is ethically produced. The quality is there. Every handmade maker I know won’t put something out unless it meets their standards. For a lot of them, it’s important they source their materials from Canada.”
Rebecca Taylor, founder of Pearl and Daisy on Upper Water Street, also loves the stories behind her products. She started out making soaps at home as a hobby, but turned that into a business after a walk in what she calls the “wild area” near her home in Londonderry. That walk inspired one of her soaps, Mountain Mist.
Her products now sell in 175 boutiques in Canada and the U.S., including in her shop in the Historic Properties. While the handcrafted soaps include imported and ethically produced palm and coconut oils, they also contain local products such as cranberries, kelp and balsam fir. Each product, she says, captures the aroma and beauty of a place in Nova Scotia.
“What I love about locally made things is you feel a connection to the producer,” she says. “Everyone of our products was developed because of a story. When a product has a story and a feeling connected to it, it means so much more to you.”
P’lovers sells a variety of products, from natural beauty products to locally made clothes for kids. “We sell through testimony only, which means every product in this store has been worn by one of our kids, or tested on one of us,” Lendrum says. “We’ve eaten it, we tried it. Every single product in the store.”
But when consumers buy local, they’re supporting local jobs. On Portland Street, for example, women entrepreneurs own many of the shops, such as The Dart Gallery.
At her factory in Debert, outside of Truro, Taylor hires local mothers who often have challenges finding employment in their rural hometowns. When you support her company, she says, you are supporting moms who are raising their children.
“I feel good about that part, too, because I am supporting my economy,” Taylor says. “Including my own, the three of us at the workshop most of the time, that’s eight kids.”
Lendrum also has an ethical and sustainable employment model at P’lovers she calls “no-limits opportunities.” Employees aren’t assigned roles, but rather encouraged to learn and share the information about the store with customers. The more they learn, the further they advance in the store and the more incentives and pay they receive. “Everybody can do everything as long as they stay long enough to learn it,” she says.
Price is still often an issue with buying local and ethically produced goods. “Even though this movement has gone mainstream, it’s still more expensive to be responsible than not,” Lendrum says. “And when it comes down to it, until everyone supports the more responsible alternative, it’s always going to be more. I am still fighting to get better rates all the time but I am not very successful.”
MacDougald says prices at her gallery are moderate but she offers a layaway option for buyers who love art, have less immediate disposable cash, and who are hesitant to use credit. “People do see value and want to support it, but sometimes bigger chunks [of money] are harder.”
Concerns and comments about price come up at the Nova Scotia Centre for Craft and Design shop come up, too. Director Susan Charles says consumers there often haggle over price or insist they could make something similar at home. She says they need to see the value of the work behind the art. “These people don’t just pop this stuff out,” Charles says. “This is work of artists who have refined their craft over years.”
The shop has a hands-on way of showing that value to customers when they host in-store workshops where guests can create art. “If you try to throw a pot and then you look at the pieces that are here, I think you do appreciate it,” Charles says.
For all of these businesses, the fall and holiday months are their busiest time of year. MacDougald says last December was probably the gallery’s best month yet. She says incentives such as the tax-free events offered by Downtown Dartmouth Business Commission encourage shoppers to check out the offerings in the area.
“There is definitely an awareness of supporting local,” she says.
Charles credits local initiatives, too, for promoting the Craft Council and the artisans it represents. Nocturne, Local Tasting Tours and Open City, she says, often introduce the store to many new customers. “We participate in as many of those as we can to get people here,” Charles says. “They come back and shop.”
Yet another plus of buying local is the packaging, or lack thereof. While some smaller gift cards are wrapped, there is a noticeable lack of packaging on the goods at The Dart Gallery. “I feel like there is very little waste, which is wonderful,” MacDougald says. “Things don’t arrive in Styrofoam packaging”
The clientele varies at these stores. At Inkwell, many of the customers are in their 30s and love handmade products. “The majority of my clientele are like me, my demographic,” Rahal says. “But then we have a lot of men and a lot of women my mom’s age.”
Charles notices a young clientele at the Nova Scotia Centre for Craft and Design shop, too. “There are 20 and 30-somethings who really do support the local movement and want to buy something unique and handmade,” Charles says. “So, God bless them for that.”
But there are others who love their products, too. “I think there are husbands encouraged by their wives to shop there as well as summer and fall travellers from Quebec and Ontario who, Charles says, recognize the quality. “I think they are some of our best buyers.”
Lendrum says she’s expecting to see some familiar faces at P’lovers over the next couple of months. P’lovers children she calls them: adults whose parents loved the store.
“This company was built on loyalty and consistency,” she says. “Because our product offering is limited by our mission, there’s not an opportunity to bring in new things often. So what we get are the repeat customers who look forward to coming home.’
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This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.