The story of Side Street Studio is more than the history of a business. It is the physical expression of a belief that real art should be accessible to everyone. It is also the evolution of a business model supported by principles of community-building economics.
Here’s how it happened.
In 1984, six women artists rented a space on a small side street in Victoria’s Oak Bay neighbourhood. Their location gave them a name for their collective business, and it also allowed them to do what they love: show and share their art with local people.
They believed art, however basic, should be experienced and enjoyed by everyone.
They established two rules for their business. Firstly, everything in Side Street Studio must be made in British Columbia by small artisan businesses. Secondly, everything in Side Street Studio must be beautiful and the very best of its kind.
Years went by and, in 1997, Side Street Studio moved to its present-day location on Oak Bay Avenue. Then, in 2005, Sue and Nigel Hayes walked through the door and said: “This is it!”
Sue and Nigel, high-school sweethearts from North London, England, had spent the greater part of their lives together working abroad in places like Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong.
Sue, a professional retailer and textile buyer for upmarket global retail corporations, became the first female vice-president ever in a male-dominated world. Nigel held senior management positions with companies like Max Factor and Price Waterhouse and worked with corporations like Citibank, Seagrams, and HSBC.
When their son Sam was born, the couple decided it was time to put down roots. Choosing Vancouver Island was easy. Nigel has family members in Canada—War Bride aunts—and he and Sue had visited many times.
“Having spent many years travelling on both business and pleasure, we know Vancouver Island is one of the best places on the planet,” he says. “Victoria has all the benefits of a city with few of the downsides of a megacity.”
Finding Side Street Studio felt like fate. They couldn’t help but be impressed and bought the business, admiring not only the quality of the art but also the founding principles.
“Both Sue and I wanted to include as many artists’ work as we could possibly do justice to and bring modern retailing and management practice to what has been—and still is—a small local business,” says Nigel.
Best of all, Side Street Studio fit with their own values—values honed after years of witnessing the effects that offshored manufacturing had on local economies: lost jobs, lost skills, low-quality products, and less local revenue.
“Sue and I strongly believe that local businesses are becoming more important and will continue to do so as a structural change in society occurs,” says Nigel. “This applies not only to artists and craftspeople but to all forms of local business, be it farming, baking, small co-operative finance, local medicine—and more.”
Side Street Studio supports highly skilled local artists—some of the very best in Canada—by allowing them to make a living doing what they love and encouraging younger artists to follow in their path.
For customers, Side Street Studio offers handcrafted, superior-quality, one-of-a-kind art at prices comparable to or better than products available at large retailers.
Revenue stays local, skills are retained locally, and because products are not arriving in a shipping crate from a foreign factory, it is a much greener business.
“There’s a tick in every box,” says Nigel.
The art at Side Street Studio speaks for itself: it’s the stunning work of extraordinarily talented British Columbia artists—more than 320 of them—who have found a home in Side Street Studio And now, with the recent adoption of social media and e-commerce using Shopify—a Canadian company—Side Street Studio has given these exceptional artists an online presence they would not have had otherwise by opening its doors virtually to the rest of the world.
Combined with Sue’s modern retail expertise, Nigel’s business management smarts, and impeccable customer service from Bonnie, Karen, and Jean, Side Street Studio is a perfect collaboration.
And it’s an example of how a local business can stay local successfully. So if you're in the Victoria, B.C. area, visit the Studio in person and enjoy the art, the ambience, and the friendly customer service that has made Side Street Studio a local favourite since 1984