Competition vs. Collaboration in Downtown Fredericton

Red Rover display from March 2016 (Image: Cara Smith/Huddle)

You might expect similar businesses sharing a small area of a small city with a small customer base might tend toward the competitive side.

But many owners of downtown Fredericton’s restaurants, stores, pubs and coffee shops have a different sort of attitude, preferring to play to each other’s strengths rather than pitting themselves against each other.

Brendan Doyle is the owner of Read’s Newsstand and Cafe. He says much of the collaboration between his business and the businesses around him comes about because of the relationships his employees and customers have with those other businesses.

All of the staff who work here, they obviously have other interests besides just coffee. So where those interests overlap is also where our relationship with other businesses overlap,” Doyle says.

“I have a number of staff [members] who are really into cycling, for example. Because of that, and also because we’re downtown, we have a really good relationship with Savage’s … We’re friends with everybody who works there. Same thing with Picaroons. Same thing with the Endeavours art store.”

Doyle says while there is a particular sense of community in downtown Fredericton, he doesn’t think it’s something exclusive to the area.

I would say that the sense of community is not unique,” he says. “Because our downtown is small, that area exists within our downtown. If you go to a city like Vancouver, you might find that same small community, but in six different areas and definitely not in the downtown area. The size of our downtown makes it possible for this community to exist just within that space.”

Doyle says it takes effort and cooperation to build that sense of community in the downtown area. He explains that it’s not always about looking for a dollar for every little thing done to help another business, but rather understanding that the cooperation benefits everyone involved.

Corked Wine Bar also operates with a sense of community and cooperation. Owner Charlotte Burhoe says she’s had relationships with the business owners around her since the beginning.

Corked is now in a partnership with the Italian restaurant across the street, Moco, to serve takeout food since the wine bar is not equipped for food preparation and service. Burhoe says she and the Moco owners developed a menu of food that would transport easily across the street. Now, Corked customers can order Moco food and have it delivered to them at the wine bar and charged on the same bill as their wine.

“Fredericton is unique in that we strive for collaborations,” Burhoe says. “I like developing partnerships. I don’t like monopolies. I like it when everyone in the picture makes money.”

Burhoe says Corked has also partnered with Music Runs Through It, a business by musician promoter Emma Chevarie, to bring live music into the bar.

“Creating a partnership there was wonderful because it’s one less thing on my entrepreneur plate that I have to micromanage,” Burhoe says. “I provide the space, we make bar sales, the bands make money, [Chevarie] makes money. It’s a really great model to use.”

The Red Rover Ciderhouse is taking that same partnership idea a step further. Owner Adam Clawson explains that not only do they do have accounts with establishments downtown to sell their cider and feature other producers’ products in their Ciderhouse, they collaborate to literally combine their product with the products of other craft brewers and create something new.

In the past, we’ve [had partnerships] with Big Axe, we’ve done ones with Picaroons, we’ve done it with Big Spruce in Nova Scotia,” Clawson says. “Then, of course, the biggest one we did was the one with Fils du Roy and the Spirits of Christmas. The idea is showcasing that you can combine two products. Cider is unique in the sense that it works really well as a blended product with other spirits and with other craft alcohol.”

Clawson says bringing two producers together in this way is not just a way to create advertising for one or the other, but to create something great that brings awareness to both. He says when they collaborate, it becomes something that’s more than just the sum of two parts.

“We’re all in it for the passion and we’re all in it for the experimentation to make things that are really interesting and unique,” Clawson says. “There’s a risk, like every relationship, that one of you works more or one of you works less or that it doesn’t work out for either.”

“So far in New Brunswick with all the craft alcohol producers, it’s very much been an open-arms policy. It’s benefited everyone really well.”