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 Kelly Bell, the owner of Whimsy Beaverton in Beaverton, Ont.
What is Whimsy Beaverton?
Whimsy is a friendly, small-town shopping experience that offers tasteful home accents and a treasury of special gift pieces to suit every occasion. Located in beautiful downtown Beaverton through the historic double doors of the 1883 John McRae building, we’re the place to stop if you’re looking for carefully curated collections of fashion accessories for both you and your home.
How did the business get started?
I worked in the social service sector for 17 years before I reached a career turning point. Both my brother and my father passed away from cancer within seven months of one another. That’s when I decided I needed to make a change. I needed to heal myself. So, I bought Whimsy. It’s such a happy place. I love going to my store.
I purchased the business on March 6, 2020 after seeing it for sale online. It was love at first sight, for myself and my partner Jason. The business had already been operating as a home décor store, but we imagined a new look and a subtle change of focus for the store offerings. Our goal was to focus on a selection of exclusive brand lines featuring unique products with high quality and a range of price points.
But we opened just as the first impacts of COVID were being felt. Very quickly I learned the importance of social media and the impact of marketing through photos. Fortunately, the items we carry are extremely photogenic and business continued even though the doors were temporarily closed.
What inspired the name?
Whimsy means playfully quaint or fanciful. The name was already established with the previous owner, but the theme of whimsy suited the new lines of products we were introducing. Visitors are often attracted to the store by the original bay windows flanking the front door. From Valentine’s Day to Remembrance Day, we create seasonal and special occasion themed displays in those windows that showcase what’s inside the store. We try to make the displays unique and whimsical to match the name. Many of the main street shops also follow this approach, making the Beaverton main street fun to explore even after closing time.
What are your most popular products?
We’re situated on the shores of Lake Simcoe, so our lakeside-living-inspired home accent line is a best seller. We carry stunning tableware pieces from Mudpie that include whimsical messages, like a tea caddy that reads: “It’s a brew-tea-full day”. Another favourite is the Wrendale line where delightful animal characters grace the cards and tableware. And we offer IHR’s eco-conscious cocktail and table napkins.
Our home décor offerings include Michel Design Works soaps, sourced from the top soap makers and fragrance houses around the globe. Little Beausoleil Candle Company features handcrafted candles made from quality ingredients, including North American premium soy wax, essential oils, and fragrance. And our Badgley/McMillan Designs candles offer an environmentally-friendly touch with non-carcinogenic, soy wax candles hand-poured in small batches in Hamilton, Ont.
In terms of fashion accessories, K Carroll’s vegan leather handbags are amazing. They feature a built-in Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) protective lining that helps prevent identity and credit card theft. And then we offer iconic jewelry from Kenneth Bell Designs. I only bring in one or two of his designs, so you really are getting an original piece for our area.
Finally, I started carrying Chef Laura’s Spices and Simple Syrups from Vancouver. She offers spice blends with unique flavour profiles and great cocktail mixes.
How do you choose the type of decor you sell?
I really look for unique and whimsical gifts for people. The product line has to fit with that. I love when people come into the store and have a lot of passion. When I choose to stock a product, my goal is to make people happy when they see it in the store. Whimsy is a magical place with unique items. That’s why I stock so many special, one-of-a-kind pieces. I want the customers to feel like they’re the only ones in the area that have it.
How has the pandemic affected your business?
The lockdowns during the winter months post Christmas were challenging. We purchase stock one to two seasons ahead, before the current stock is sold, so it was hard to know how much to order and whether it would sell. I did receive some government assistance, about $5,000 in the first few months. But to be eligible for the major small business grants, you had to have a business licence or a business bank account by March 1, 2020. Since I opened Whimsy on March 6, I wasn’t eligible. I’ve had to do it all on my own.
The lockdowns did give me time to research additional, unique lines for the business and consider new layout arrangements, though. So, I am feeling a renewed energy this year.
What does the future look like for Whimsy Beaverton?
I’m looking forward to the return of busy streets in Beaverton, especially in the spring to fall months. I really appreciate my faithful customers who shopped as often as they could through the past two years. Their friendly faces and messages kept me going. It is exciting to see how Beaverton is growing. The housing developments combined with cottage visitors and day-trippers will bring new faces through our doors. Otherwise, we’re always looking to expand our product lines. I already have plans to add an eighth line with Canadian Candles.
I’ve also found that retail in small, rural communities is increasingly about collaborative efforts. I try to support local organizations and community initiatives as often as I’m able, and am always happy to participate in joint marketing campaigns, promotional initiatives led by the Board of Trade, or by simply tagging another business when our products complement each other. When businesses work together the whole community benefits.
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