My path to Local Pieces Gallery
Ever since I moved to Fergus in 2017 I have felt at home. Now Fergus wasn’t completely unknown to me, as my former in-laws had a cottage not to far from Fergus and I used to enjoy coming in to town on the weekends we spent with them to get tools, lumber, what ever the reason had been. But little did I know then as a visitor then that I would be moving here and that I would be leasing a space right in the heart of Fergus on St Andrew St W. I most certainly never knew back then that the space I would eventually lease would be to open a vape shop, which was, not exactly what most of Canada at the time would call a reputable business.
For some background I grew up in Uptown Waterloo, a quick 15 minutes drive down County Rd 18 or Northfield Dr E coming from Waterloo, a left turn on to king street and your practically there. I would spend my weekends with friends at the Elora Gorge camp grounds. skip ahead nearly 20 years and I had taken a job in 2015 selling E-juice wholesale to the emerging Vaping industries retailers. But even before that I had started, and joined, a number of Facebook groups which were intended to provide a forum about the new technology and to help us organize actions, protest and to educate the rather uninformed political leadership and general public at the time. So needless to say I am very well informed as to the facts about vaping. The lies that are perpetrated to this very day by institutions to affraid to stand their ground on such a topic, let alone recant what they have already said in err is utterly deplorable and murderous. So when I opened up smack dab in the middle of Historic Downtown Fergus, I knew there were going to be questions as to who I was, what vaping was and the feared impact my presence might have downtown.
Thankfully I am extremely passionate about the subject and happy to engage anyone who will listen about the incredible potential this technology possess to save lives, help the finacially struggling health care system, and generally improve the lives of Canadians as a whole.
So I got to work renovating my new location, and shaking hands with as many people as I could. What I noticed was, inspite of my worries about being stimatized there were a lot of hands to shake. After all It was a well known spot having formely been the home of the well established I Love Chocolate and people were curious. For the couple months it took me to renovate I ate a steady diet of ROTI from the Underground Kitchen, and pardon the topic but I’ve never been so regular in my life! It is good, really good, wholesome well made food that Chef Matt makes there!
I had started with an almost militant mindset, I was gonna change the world and show every one who wasn’t me what I knew! Idealistic maybe but more to the point a tad bit standoff-ish. What I quickly came to learn was that our “Main Street” here in Fergus was a made up of some exceptionally caring and outgoing people, engaged business owners, and caring residents. Everyone I talked with had something to offer or contribute to the up and coming season or event and every one here put the time in to dressing up thier space. Each store front would decorate accordingly to match the theme of the time.
All these events were, for me, one of the toughest hurdles as no one under 19 was allowed in my store! How could I show the town that I wasn’t a sleezy mysterious shop that teens would try to sneak into and buy vapes from? well for the Halloween trick or treat I thought ‘I know I’ll scare their Kids!’ I figured might as well deter them while their young right? That might not be good for sales in future generations but I wasn’t in this business for sales as much as I was in it to help people quit smoking. So I set up some 7 foot tall thrones out side as a photo op location for kids to get a picture and just as the parents were about to take the picture I lowered a giant spider down on the kids giving their focus smiles a sudden surprise just in time for hte camera to caputre thier faces! Ok admittedly that wasnt actually planned that well but it did work out to happen like that most times. lol. But It helped me to find a grove and engage the wider community whom I didnt see everyday.
Now I had opened my first store as a franchise of an established chain of Vape Retail stores. They had promised one thing and then unfortuneatly acted on another and what was in the frachisee contract was quite ludicrous to me and not at all what was disscussed when I set out to open my store. I felt incredibly betrayed. I will always credit them with giving me the support to take that first big step of making it actually happen. with out them I would never have seen this dream take shape. But it was my dream I had to look out for not thiers. As it turned out I had a customer who had been interested in becoming an investor in the industry should I ever wish to expand. Well now I wanted to expand alright. Expand in to my own brand and see things done right! So I left the contract unsigned and closed down the store for renovations once again. Well wouldnt luck have it, the investor I thought I had the support of suddenly dissappeared and went quiet. Not a great start to 2019.
So there I was with little more than the days sales to completely renovate and relaunch an entirely new store before I had lost all the great customer relationships I had created. So I set about getting the tasks on the very long list of things to do accomplished. One by one it took almost 6 months of operating from a make shift store of curtains hiding construction but I was proud to finally re-launch under my new brand County Vape just in time for summer so things were once again looking up.
And what a great summer it was business was climbing and i was finally making some money I was seeing success in business. Sadley though it came at the cost of failure at home. September 2019 my wife and I split and I moved out. This was by far the hardest thing I have ever had to do. It nearly broke me when I saw the look on my daughters face when we told her the news. It was decided that she and her sister would stay in the house with their mom so thier lives would be impacted very little as I was working so much anyway I was barely more than a ghost there anyways. But thank fully time has proven it was the right move and I see my kids more now than iever did before which we all love.
I hadnt even tucked in the sheets on my new bed when a sudden bombshell dropped on the news. EVALI! It was suddenly being reported that teens across the USA were dropping dead from a mysterious illness believed to be caused by Vaping. This hurt bad, almost over night the CBC had managed to completely reverse any progress made in the education of the public. The industry saw almosta an immediate halving of sales I lost about half my business over night. But who could I blame? I knew this was fear mongering and glory seeking at the worst possible time for me. I knew the truth and I had to have faith that things would come around. There are no certainties in this world and the best we can hope to know is as much as our collective knowledge has shown to be true through controlled testing and repetitive confirmation from individual sources.
This is how science works but the media is not a humanitarian organiation and sadly freedom of the press affords them a large amount of creative control over the context and stand points from which they chose to stand on when reporting the facts. And nothing draws attention better than a villan after your kids. Everyone knows big tobacco companies are among the most unscrupulous when it comes to manipulation of the truth. This is not lost on editors at the CBC either and with funding at an altime low thanks to the conservatives slashing in 2011 they needed the ad revenue bad. As such all they had to do was literally not mention any of the 2500 Canadian vape brands already established in Canada but instead do a Market Expos’e on the one brand of tobacco who was starting out in Vaping market over seas and boom the headline literally read “Big tobacco is back and they are coming for your kids!”.
Well if you add that to the eager ambitions of a few administrative level doctors who believe personal success in the media is worth more than their personal integrity? You have a perfect example of a systems failure wrapped in a ciulture shaming anyone who questions it as a conspiracy nut and thus corruption is left to make profits at the lives of Canadian smokers. It was the CBC who had decided to be the first to get in front of and lead the battle against this killer from the start. They made terrribly uninformed call knowing they would not be asked any real hard questions from other media outlets who were loosely repeating the same narrative trying to grab at what they figured was low hanging fruit. And who were more than happy to encourage the boogy man they had created and controlled. The public was given misleading and false information that the media had presented as the defining nail in the coffin on the confusion they created surrounding vaping. It was official Vaping was killing teens! and they had won the battle for public opinion. But I knew we were right and I was not going to let this technology that saves my life and millions more every day down!
I knew that as things do, people slowly begin to wonder how an illness, said to be caused by an activity practiced by milllions all over the world was really only affecting teens from a single geopgraphical area?? As it turns out the press and the doctors that enjoy holding the publics attention with sensationalist headlines and the like might have been a bit hasty about the actual cause. Even the CDC has issued papers admitting that the likely culprit was actually underground THC vapes. But in America when your healthcare will be revoked buy the insurance company if you somoke Cannabis and are thus commiting a class A felony chances are when asked what the patients were doing that might have gotten them sick they were happy to say it was Ejuice that did it. Thankfully despite the fear mongering in the press organizations like Regulator Watch and the Canadian Vaping Association are working hard to ensure the truth is still saving lives.
Either way I was devestated and had to sell off assets to stay afloat. Then right after Christmas (2020) as things began to look up. . . Along came COVID.
Enter COVID 19 Stage left, COVID took it’s toll on the downtown as it did everywhere. I was forced to close my doors officially but with customers begging me to not send them back to tobacco, I began selling my products from the back of the building where County Vape is currently operating today for the remainder of the lockdowns. This might have been a complete disaster had the idea of a new Art Gallery not been able to com to light. by Christmas 2020 I had renovated the former vape shop in the first version of Local Pieces that I designed to become a platform showcasing all the excellent talent in the area. That first Christmas was a short lived season for that Gallery as sales were low and I didnt think I could get very far with that model and buy the time the next lockdown started I had pretty much lost any hope i had in the idea of a gallery being a functional business for me.
I had the pleasure of getting to know my immediate neighbors both of whom have closed their doors and since moved on sadly. I also had the pleasure of meeting Kim Jefferson, Chair of the Fergus BIA, owner of Joanie’s Crafts Gifts & Stained Glass and one of the nicest people I have ever had the privilage of knowing on a professional level. I quickly go the sense that it mattered much less to people what my store was so long as I was successful. It really seemed like they wanted me to succeed! Yes as I had transformed my location into my new store I was also transforming myself.
I am proud to be a part of this business community which offers the town so much. There is ofcourse The Fergus Scottish Festival and Highland games which is embraced town wide every year. The organizers also host Tartan Day and help paint the town Plaid with help from the BIA! But we also host an Easter egg hunt every year, We host the Fergus Medeval Faire organized by the amazing Nat owner of The Red Door along with Deb the owner of The Bookery, who also runs the Fergus Ghost Walks. This year we hosted the first annual Fergus Fibre Festival (2022) which was organized in part by Miranda the owner over at the String Theory Yarn Shop. We host the Downtown Fergus Classic Car Show. At Halloween we have begun promoting the Monster Month event started by Elora. Starting this year the downtown merchants of Fergus are offering a Halloween Haunt Street Walk. During Christmas everyone decorates their windows ofcourse and we are host to the yearly Fergus Lions Club Santa Claus Parade as well as the annual Fergus Downtown Sip and Shop.
Fast foreword to late August of 2020 and I get a call from a man asking if I was going to be having a Christmas sale that year he was claiming to be jeweller/Goldsmith which made me think maybe this isnt quite dead after all. Enter Mr Tony Deluca! Owner of the famous About Face Jewellery and the man who literally wrote the book on cuttlebone casting. We arranged a meet and greet which I had more or less figured I would go so that I could explain to him why I wouldnt be opening and how bad my plan was so that he wouldnt get his hopes up. And I thought it a great opportunity to show my daughter his studio where ne invited me to meet with him as she was an aspiring artist at the time. Well surprise to me We hit it off and since then he has generously donated much of his time and resources into helping me see a newly found potential in the Local Pieces Gallery and has been working hard with no pay to try and see that potential in to reality. Tony brought with him years of networking and industy experience and I am proud to say that we now host and display work from over 25 local artists!