by Muffet Bilyard-Leake, Muffet & Louisa –
I can’t say that I am a Sidney native, but I have lived in North Saanich since 1969 which has made Sidney my market town for most of my adult life. When I decided to buy a business in the summer of 1986, Sidney was a busy little hub serving Sidney residents and the surrounding municipalities so, why not? I bought a small business on the corner of Fifth Street and Beacon Avenue, not because I had a need to bring my love of food and cooking to the world, but because it happened to be for sale at the right price! We thrived, expanded that space to twice its size that fall, expanded again in 1990 and then ventured a second store in Victoria in 2002.
During those years, Fifth to Fourth (the home of iconic Tanner’s Bookstore) was the centre of Sidney. The Pier Hotel, the Sidney Waterfront and Cannery were just holes in the ground at the end of the Avenue. Business grew, our population was more mixed demographically (our neighbour Odyssia stayed open till 1 a.m. on weekends!) but truthfully, we did not communicate much as merchants, we did our own thing. There were various business associations that were membership based and didn’t exist for long, too few members and too little income to do very much promotion – but we did not need them so much then: times were good.
Then 2008! Times changed! Huge financial crisis in the U.S. and for us at M&L, a new landlord and a big rent increase after 24 years of stability. The Pier and the Waterfront/Cannery had built to fill in the gaps on the water front, the centre of Sidney had moved down the Avenue, and we decided to move too.
This was a new environment for Sidney merchants: people were spending less, online shopping had grown to something that almost everyone did, and the SBIA was still three years away. A group of us formed the Merchants’ Co-op and this is where we really started to know each other and work together. We were full of ideas and grew a strong community, some men for sure, but I have to say, mostly women. We planned and held successful events, work was done on the edge of our desks and we had no money – we raised funds as we went but we developed a wonderfully warm and supportive group of people who still work together today. We work as a community, recommending each other to our customers and doing all we can to take care of people who are so kind as to shop with us, and to keep those customers shopping in Sidney.
This community of merchants and the people who support them by shopping in Sidney are the reason why, despite all the challenges Sidney is facing today (and there are many!), I am still here sharing space with Dig This in the prettiest building in Sidney.