Friday, July 19, 2024

Shipping-container retail concept brought to ByWard Market

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The public opening of the pop-up shop in Ottawa is scheduled for Friday.

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Imani Busby will spend the next month in Ottawa displaying the work of queer, trans and BIPOC artists in a cleverly kitted-out shipping container located in one of the busiest corners of the ByWard Market. 

“I’m excited to be here,” the 22-year-old artist-curator from Toronto said. “I think it’s a beautiful city, a beautiful location and I’m happy to be part of the community. Everyone has been so friendly.” 

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The high-profile opportunity to expand her pop-up gallery, called The Gift Shop 3.0, is the result of a business-accelerator program launched by STACKT, a Canadian company that operates a shipping-container vendors’ marketplace in Toronto. Set up in a vacant, neglected lot on Bathurst Avenue five years ago, the flagship market features more than 100 shipping containers, with businesses offering beverages, food, art, events, a basketball court and space to hang out. It covers 100,000 square feet, and recently extended its lease for 10 more years. 

Imani Busby The Gift Shop ByWard Market
Small business owner Imani Busby stands in the entrance to the new pop-up shipping container for her business, The Gift Shop 3.0, in the ByWard Market. Photo by JULIE OLIVER /Postmedia

In Ottawa, just one container is devoted to the accelerator project, dubbed STACKTx, as part of a deal with the ByWard Market District Authority. It will be in place for at least a year, featuring a new business each month. Busby’s shop is the first in Ottawa. Similar single-unit ventures are expected to launch in Calgary and Vancouver this year. 

The vision for STACKTx is to nurture small businesses in Canada, said company founder Matt Rubinoff, who was in Ottawa for the public opening of the pop-up shop on Friday.

“A large percentage of businesses fail,” he observed. “We’re trying to decrease that. We want them to grow and thrive.” 

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Small businesses can sign up online for the STACKTx accelerator program, which also provides resources, education, mentorship, social events, conferences and more, Rubinoff said. Corporate partners such as the software company Xero help keep it free. 

If selected for a free month in the retail unit, the winning business receives additional support from the company, such as adapting the space to suit the business and working with a visual merchandiser to display products effectively. 

Rubinoff says it’s a great opportunity for a small-business owner who wants to try out the retail sector without having to commit. Ottawa-area businesses are encouraged to apply. 

Matt Rubinoff
STACKT founder Matt Rubinoff sits in front of a new pop-up shop in the ByWard Market. Photo by JULIE OLIVER /Postmedia

“Some of these businesses may only exist online, so this is a perfect stepping stone to see if retail is something they want to explore further,” Rubinoff said.  

It’s not Busby’s first time in a storefront, but it is her first time doing business outside the Greater Toronto Area. She hopes to expand her network of artists and professionals, help emerging artists develop business skills, host events and sell some art.

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“I want to be able to help artists sell their work and become economically self-sufficient through their practice,” she said. 

Events will take place on a low deck constructed around the unit. The schedule includes a series of workshops on topics such as grant-application writing and digital marketing, an artists’ roundtable, “activation” events and musical performances every Friday starting June 21. 

A grand-opening party is planned for 6-11 p.m. on Saturday.

lsaxberg@postmedia.com

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