Local is Lemur's retail watchword

Some items at one-year-old Danforth shop made in neighbourhood

How many people can say they started their business by literally bumping into people?

Well, Maureen Coyle for one.

Owner of Lemur at 900 Danforth Ave. near Jones Avenue, Coyle says she literally ran into her business mentor, Tom Yun, a few years ago when he was coming out of his store in the Annex area.

Yun was new to Canada at the time and didn’t have the best English language skills.

“I told him if he’d teach me Korean, I’d teach him English.”

They became friends, and on Coyle’s birthday after their meeting, Yun asked Coyle what she wanted him to give her as a gift.

“I said, ‘I want you to help me open a shop.’”

Yun had had three successful retail concepts in his native Korea, Coyle says, along with a store in Toronto called Just You — Sarah & Tom.

They started work right away, walking all over the city looking for a space until they found the one on the Danforth.

In June, Coyle celebrates the first anniversary of her store, which specializes in Canadian-made and designed accessories, cards and gifts.

The business concept wasn’t Canadian from the get-go. Coyle says she knew she wanted to carry a certain brand of handbag, and when she started asking herself why she liked the bags, the fact that they were made in Canada stood out.

“I’m not a shopper,” she says. “Things for the sake of things don’t interest me much. It’s the story.”

The collection grew from there — with a few more bumps along the way.

At a trade show, Coyle literally bumped into someone who would become a supplier while leaving the show, a Markham-based artisan who makes wood and metal watches.

There are other, more hyper-local connections.

One jewellery maker who fashions earrings, bracelets and rings from Japanese Washi paper lives in Leslieville.

Another creator of non-leather belts is close by.

“When I need more belts, she walks them over.”

Coyle doesn’t seem perturbed by stores further west on the Danforth that are selling similar wares.

“The more play this stuff gets, the better,” she says. “I don’t go for this territorial thing.”

The decision to open a store came about, she says, as her consulting work in employment equity and governance issues was drying up.

“It came down to an economic issue,” she says. “I needed to create my own work.”

Coyle is also doing a Ph.D at U of T in physical cultural studies, starting after being open for only a few months.

She didn’t know she’d been accepted into the program as her acceptance letter was lost, she says — then she got a call from the university.

Coyle handled that bump just as she’s done with all the others: She jumped right in.

About this article:

By: Kelly Gadzala
Posted: Jun 15 2011 1:36 pm
Filed in: Business
Edition: Toronto