The first time I saw a World of Maps store, I couldn't believe there was a market for maps to pay the rent on an expensive storefront on Wellington Street West.
But World of Maps is more than just maps. There's flags, apps, travel guides, globes, cards and many other accessories, while being a one stop shop for travellers.
"Business is roaring back now that we can travel internationally again," said Brad Green, who started World of Maps with his partner Petra Thoms in 1994. "When COVID came, business shifted from travel logistics and planning to reading about travelling, camping, fishing and home schooling geography. It proved to us that our customers are not just travellers, but people who have a wide, curious view of the world and want to explore it either physically or imaginatively."
Originally a cartographer for the oil and gas industry in his native province of Alberta, Green moved to the Netherlands to BO, an oil and gas company. It's where he met his wife, Petra, and they travelled the globe together and a10 years later, they relocated to Canada and chose Ottawa because of its European flavour.
"We picked Ottawa because it's such a family friendly city with a cosmopolitan population with all the embassy staff and politicians and the universities and wilderness adventurers here," said Green. "It wasn't our intention to open a store, but I needed to work, and knew travel well enough to be successful."
Who knew there was a robust market for flags and Michelin guides? Green and Thoms did and because of their experience and knowledge from a decade of travelling, World of Maps quickly found a captive audience at its original location on Holland Avenue.
Now located on Wellington Street at Parkdale Avenue, World of Maps has become a familiar landmark in the area. Green considered expanding into Toronto 20 years ago, but abandoned the idea and opted to build a big, handy website instead.
"All you need these days is one physical store and a really good website," he said. "It not only got us through the pandemic, but it means we have a national presence."
Today, business is chugging along, finding new customers all the time. During pandemic lockdowns, demand on the website was intense for travel writing, fiction and travel planning.
"I enjoy the interaction with people, travellers and helping them plan their adventures," said Green. "My rule in business is treat customers and staff right and they'll treat you right too. It's a fun place to work."
However, the business of travelling internationally has, in recent times, become more complicated after a two-year pandemic layover where the industry just down entirely. It has since reopened, but few anticipated the demand for adventure and family that has been overwhelming the airports.
Flags such as Ukraine, Canada and the Pride flag have been steady sellers and in high demand, but not without the occasional complication.
"A family came into the store in January asking for Canadian flags," Green recalled. "I thought they wanted them to support the Canadian Olympic team but they wanted it for the 'Freedom Convoy' rally that besieged Parliament Hill for three weeks. I didn't want them to sell them the flags because I don't want them to jam their freedom down my throat.
He said flags are a "touchy" business right now.
"There's a message behind symbolism," he said. "But in the meantime, we'll keep the store going because there's always a reason to travel."
Visit worldofmaps.com for more information.