SAINT JOHN – A Saint John-based business is taking its show “on the road,” putting a stunning historic building in the city’s uptown back on the market.
The company has been based out of One Princess Street since owners Denise Dow and Patricia Gallagher purchased and renovated the building in 2014. After a few years of using the building’s bottom floor as a pop-up shop/event venue, they decided to set up a small retail shop to sell some of their merchandise, particularly to cruise ship passengers and tourists, as well as be a showroom for wholesale clients. The shop was successful, but it wasn’t a big part of Strong & Free’s business model.
“The way our model works, we were never destined to carry inventory. We own the trademark to the word ‘Strong & Free’ and license it to other suppliers,” says Gallagher. “Our goal was always to outsource that to wholesalers and have retailers sell it to their shops and to their customers.”
It’s the demand from suppliers that have led Gallagher and Dow to pack up shop at One Princess. In addition to the store downstairs, they also rent out two Airbnb suites upstairs. Due to the demands those ventures have, Gallagher says they are missing out on opportunities.
“What’s happening with the brand is it has gone crazy and we’re in 90 stores across Canada and we just landed five more duty-free [stores] this past week,” she says. “We want to be able to go and spend time with our buyers and merchandise their stores and work with them and their program, versus being stuck here in this one location tied to Airbnb reservations and then having a retail shop that the expectation is that it’s open all summer for cruise ship passengers and travelers.”
Strong & Free has been getting more requests from businesses licensing the trademark to work more closely with them on their merchandise.
“We’re taking a leap of faith that it’s time for us to make this move, but we feel really confident,” says Gallagher. Even meeting with our buyers, they’re like ‘can you come and do the merchandising? Can you come set up the stores? Can you do a store inside a store?’ I can, but not this year. I just couldn’t.”
Patricia and Dow will still live in Saint John, but they will be leaving their home at the top of One Princess and moving into a new house. Strong and Free merchandise will still be available online and they’re working with some local retailers to carry the line in Saint John.
As for One Princess Street, the fully renovated building is for sale, fully furnished, for $995,000. Gallagher says the possibilities for the building are endless.
Take a look inside One Princess, below:
“We have put all our love into it. All our blood, sweat and tears. We’ve made a beautiful canvas for someone else to come along and make it their own,” she says. “We’ve had people talk about putting office space back into the suites and then renting out the top floor as a tenant. We’ve heard people talk about perhaps a cafe down here or an ice cream shop, which I think would be fantastic with the tourists. The sky is the limit. You can really create whatever you want with it.”
The Strong & Free store will be open until at least Christmas. Though this new direction will mean a lot more travelling, Gallagher says Saint John will always be home to the brand.
“Saint John will always be our home base. It just won’t have this footprint and it won’t have the commitment to our own retail storefront and we don’t want a commitment with the Airbnb’s anymore,” she says. “It will just allow us to be able to move about. Just more flexibility and freedom to take out show on the road, so to speak.”