After 41 years in the biz, Connie Wright could use a break. So, come Dec. 24, she’s giving up her Trunk Road storefront staple – Connie Wright Original Knits Boutique – and handing off her legacy to a dear neighbour.
The long-time islander did her first craft fair in 1980, right here on Bowen, and continued doing them for decades. But Connie grew tired of the endless set-ups and take-downs and most of the fairs were in town.
The Union Steamship Company Marina-owned cottage came up for rent 12 and a half years ago. “This is the best location, it really is,” says Connie. “And I love this old building. It’s an old Union Steamship building.”
Connie’s love of the historic USSC buildings runs deep: she’s lived in USSC two cottages in Davies Orchard and one in Deep Bay.
Now, after 41 years, Connie’s ready to step back. “When you’re in retail, you really work seven days a week,” she says. She also makes all of the beaded jewellery and knits in her store. “So when I’m not here, I’m home making things or I’m ordering, or I’m doing bookkeeping. Having a store is a 24/7 thing.”
What’s kept Connie going? “New experiences, learning a ton, of fantastic customers,” she says. “I’m really blessed with having so many repeat people. And a lot of my customers have morphed into friends.”
A wall separates Connie from Squirrel next door – Squirrel is both the name of the boutique shop selling socially-responsible clothes, jewellery, gifts and homeware and the nickname of proprietor Caro Johnson.
Caro started Squirrel about four years ago. She was new to retail – she had been working for Carol Petersen at Nature Encounters and when Petersen decided to sell the business, she encouraged Caro to buy it.
“And I said no. Why? I’m a horse trainer,” recounts Caro.
“You could do your own thing. And you could do some philanthropic give back stuff,” Petersen told Caro.
Caro still wasn’t going to buy the business, but then she made a stop at Pharmasave in Caulfeild. A little metal sign there read “I’m already disturbed. Please come in.”
“So I rang up my husband and said, We’re buying the store.”
“What made you change your mind?” asked her husband.
“I spent $7.99 on the door sign,” answered Caro.
When Squirrel started, Caro and Connie barely knew one another but they’ve become fast friends. A doorway inside the building connects the two stores, and the door is often open. Connie has helped guide the rookie retailer through her early years of the shop and now, Caro is buying Connie’s business.
“The idea of the space is so exciting. But the idea of doing it and filling what Connie’s done is just about impossible,” says Caro. Squirrel will open sometime in the early new year with its newly renovated space.
Squirrel will continue carrying some of Connie’s clothing lines. “I’ve always specialized in only natural fibres,” explains Connie. “I have people from Vancouver coming here because there are no stores in Vancouver that specialize in that anymore.”
Having spent so much time doing so many crafty things on Bowen, Connie has developed a large local clientele. “Which I will miss like crazy, but I have promised to help [Caro].”
Connie will be back in the store in July and August one day a week and will do some help with ordering clothing.
The outgoing store owner also gives a plug for supporting and buying local – “we have unique, special stores here that should be supported,” she says. “I’m hoping that more people will shop locally. It just helps the community tremendously.”