What Darwin said about the animal kingdom is also true about Ottawa's retail jungle; these days, it's survival of the fittest.
A year and a half into pandemic and business at Pot and Pantry, a kitchenware store on Elgin Street, has never been better. It's so good, Robin Coull is growing her business, moving her current store into a space twice its current size, and launching a new Pot and Pantry Home shop in its original location.
Opening in October in the space formerly housing The Gifted Type, the new Pot and Pantry will carry more of the bakery, cookware, food and bar items that made the original business model a success.
Meanwhile, Coull is converting the original store into a new venture under the same banner, but for home decor, bed linens, storage solutions and things for the pet.
Luckily, the 40-year-old is in one of the few businesses that benefited from the quarantine lockdown in March 2020, when baking bread and making cocktails would become a bigger thing. Overnight, housebound clientele flooded kitchen shops like Pot and Pantry with calls for bread and cake pans, pizza trays, piping bags, measuring cups, utensils and accessories.
“When restaurants initially closed, there was a surprising rush for basic kitchen items,” Coull recalls. “People who used to rely on the local diner for breakfast now had to make their own eggs. I'm in an industry that, during COVID, was fortunate enough to provide things to people they needed. People were baking more, looking for things to do around the house. That gave me confidence to move forward.”
Suddenly, Coull didn't have to chase business, it came looking for her. Then, when the rules on social distancing relaxed, people began entertaining again, throwing dinner and cocktail parties, and this time with an ambition and enthusiasm we haven't seen for a long time.
We've always heard the kitchen was the heart of the home.
“A kitchen sparks creativity,” Coull adds. “People are really creative. Cooking, entertaining, decorating your house are creative activities. You may not have that chance to be creative during your 9 to 5 work. That's why hobbies, cooking in the kitchen, have become so popular. We're creative.”
After years managing another popular kitchen store in Westboro and running a successful catering business, Coull opened her original Elgin Street store in 2016. Growing up in an entrepreneurial family in Ottawa, she was coached by her parents to look for opportunities and take risks.
“Even as kids, we were always having bake sales or selling t-shirts,” Coull recalls. “My father encouraged us to turn off the TV and do something creative.”
“I have that entrepreneurial spirit,” she adds. “I enjoy a challenge. Otherwise, I wouldn't have expanded my business at a time like this. But retail is always changing; what people want and how they shop. I'm not worried about the future of street front shopping in my lifetime. People love going to stores, making connections with the product and the staff. That will keep retail going.”