Two of Ottawa’s oldest surviving queer businesses have saved themselves from the chopping block by merging into one.
As of Oct 1, 2016, the book and art store After Stonewall and the sex shop Wilde’s are now one business — Stonewall Wilde’s.
Following a crowdfunding campaign, the former Wilde’s, which was owned by Trevor Prevost was moved into the unoccupied space beneath Michael Deyell’s After Stonewall at 370 Bank St so that the two businesses can collaborate more easily, introduce new products and reduce their overhead costs.
“We are now able to start expanding on products and open up the space for more events,” Prevost says. “I think that connecting with the community more [through events] will increase traffic.”
They also intend to expand stock on both levels. The upper and lower levels have retained much of the character of the businesses on which they are based — upstairs is art, books and gift ideas and downstairs is all things sex. Some of the new stock on the lower level will be leather sex toys and gear (beginning January 2017) and artistic nude shots of men.
Christine Leadman, executive director of the Bank Street Business Improvement Area (BIA), says that with the economy being shaky and folks doing more of their shopping online, businesses in the Village — particularly small and queer-owned ones — are suffering a lot. She hopes Stonewall Wilde’s succeeds and thinks the merger was probably a good move.
“They have to re-look at themselves and reinvent themselves — this is all part of business — and they’ve done that,” she says. “You’re always stronger together and it seems like a good fit for them.”
But she emphasizes that in order to succeed, Stonewall Wilde’s will need all the support it can get from the community. “The community really needs to understand that the Village relies on them for its health,” she says, noting that the BIA wants to find ways to make the Village as welcoming as possible so that more people will go and shop there.
Ted Chartrand, an active community member and customer of the former After Stonewall, hopes the new business finds ways to stay afloat.
Chartrand says After Stonewall and Wilde’s used to provide more of a focal point for the community, but that a cultural shift is now taking place. Like Leadman, Chartrand says more people are relying on online shopping, and with greater acceptance of queer people in society at large, many no longer feel a strong need to shop at queer-focused businesses. Chartrand says businesses like Stonewall Wilde’s are going to suffer unless they find ways to adapt.
“I don’t know what the answer is,” he says. “I think the challenge may be to expand into products of interest to the wider community — to get mainstream customers too — while still somehow maintaining an LGBT identity.”
Stonewall Wilde’s may not be out of the woods just yet. The dwindling of villages across the country — the number of bars and nightclubs catering to a queer crowd in Ottawa has diminished in recent years — raises the questions about the business prospects of Stonewall Wilde’s even after the merger.
To increase its chances of making it, Stonewall Wilde’s bid to survive goes beyond simply moving and doing minor renovations. To attract new customers, Deyell and Prevost intend to host a series of ongoing events at the store. This may include a monthly book club, book and product launches, meet-the-artist events and socials.
“We are trying to make it a one-stop shop,” Prevost says. “It’s about offering our clients more.”