Here at Cottage Life, we realize how hard the COVID-19 pandemic has hit local businesses. To do our part, we’ll be highlighting the stories of different businesses in cottage country. This week, we spoke with Sandra Nicholson who owns West Wind Gallery & Gifts in Bancroft, Ont.
What is West Wind Gallery & Gifts?
It’s a cottage country gift shop with a nature-inspired theme. We carry a broad selection of items: giftware, home décor, housewares, clothing, and artwork as well. We have a really heavy emphasis on outdoors, wildlife, and nature. We try to get families involved in doing outdoor activities together to appreciate nature and animals. And whenever possible, we try to choose products that are made in Canada and made in Ontario.
How did the business get started?
The business started in 1987, but I took over in 1999. The McCabes owned it before me. They had it for 12 years and built it up into a popular destination in the Bancroft area. Then in 1999, I was looking for a business to move away from [Toronto] and the McCabes were selling West Wind, and it seemed like a really good fit.
But the history of the building we’re in goes well beyond the ’80s. It was Bancroft’s original post office, and it survived a fire in the early 1900s that wiped out all of Bridge Street. Our building didn’t completely survive, but some of the walls did and they rebuilt it. And it was the post office in town until the ‘60s when the current post office was built.
What inspired the name?
The previous owners chose the name. It was named after the Tom Thomson painting The West Wind, so there’s a real strong connection to Algonquin Park and the Group of Seven. Bancroft is quite close to the park, and Thomson is a Canadian icon. So, that’s how the store came to get its name.
What’s your most popular product?
Probably our most popular would be Hatley, which is a company from Quebec that’s been around for about the same length of time as our business. Their brand is very casual. They have kids clothing and adult clothing. Pajamas is what we mainly carry, their Little Blue House collection. It’s very cottagey and wildlife themed, and it’s all about comfort. People get it as souvenirs while being up at the cottage and they take it back to the city with them as a reminder.
We also do our own clothing line of custom designed Bancroft wear. We are very well known for our Bancroft sweatshirts and t-shirts.
How do you design your Bancroft wear collection?
Sometimes I’ll come up with my own designs and send them to a company, and sometimes I’ll look at the company’s catalogue of designs and modify those to make it the way I want. We have a few different suppliers that we work with, but all of our Bancroft clothing is printed in Canada.
How has the pandemic affected your business?
When we were closed last spring, that was very challenging because we just came through the winter and we are very much a cottage-tourist-season-driven business. So, being closed down right before our season was pretty scary. There was so much uncertainty and we didn’t know how long we’d be closed for. We did as much curb-side pickup and online business as we could, but it’s not the same as coming in and experiencing the store.
But we were able to reopen after the May long weekend and it went gangbusters after that and never stopped. For us, and I think for much of Bancroft, it was a really stellar summer. I think because everybody wasn’t travelling, people were staying in Ontario and they were going to their cottages. It was really good for our community and for businesses like mine.
And I think people with winterized cottages didn’t close their cottages this fall. They kept them open through Christmas, which meant our community had more people than usual for a longer period of time. So, we feel very lucky and very fortunate that we came through things doing well.
What does the future look like for West Wind Gallery & Gifts?
We’re always looking to expand our made-in-Canada and made-in-Ontario collections, and working with more small businesses that are creating merchandise. I think that as a country we’ll hopefully move towards supporting more manufacturing in Canada following this pandemic.
Having been closed, I also think we need to increase our online presence because we’ve never really been an online store. So, certainly looking towards that in the future.
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