– Words by Sean McIntyre Photography by Don Denton
If there was any doubt about the outlook for good old-fashioned bricks-and-mortar shops in a not-quite-post-pandemic world, one need only take a look at Nanaimo’s emergent OCQ.
The Old City Quarter’s specialty boutiques, community services, innovative restaurants and cosy cafes have breathed new life into the heart of Nanaimo’s downtown area, making it a must-see for travellers passing through and a worthy destination for day-trippers coming from across Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland.
“We believe having places for people to walk, get a coffee, grab lunch, pick up groceries, sit in the park and pop into shops is hugely significant to our day-to-day happiness,” says business owner Sara Edge, who opened Hoxton Home in the neighbourhood with spouse Daniel Martin this past April. “The Old City Quarter of Nanaimo has an independent spirit that we wanted to be a part of. It has a growing pulse of like-minded people who are setting out to shape the city that they want to live in.”
The young couple is among the recent wave of energetic, inspired and entrepreneurial migrants to Vancouver Island, who are giving shape to the rapidly changing region. Attracted by the island lifestyle, these newcomers aim to promote community and business development while fostering respect for integral human values.
To that end, Sara and Daniel take great care to ensure the stylish and functional home decor and personal accessories found in their shop are made with social and environmental impacts in mind. Whether it’s a solid, untreated oak dining table or a 100 per cent European-milled linen beach towel, the couple aims to provide shoppers with the same timeless, non-disposable products they choose in their family’s home.
“We want products to be both beautiful and useful,” Sara says. “In our modern society we notice we often get stuck in routines and tend to miss out on the beauty in the moment we’re in. We believe by living with intention and by surrounding ourselves with objects that reflect that, we are able to get more out of the day-to-day experience.”
The new shop combines a clean and unhurried aesthetic with character elements embodied by the neighbourhood’s heritage elements. The minimalist design is shared by many of the products found in store and features prominently in the design of the business’ website.
The choice to proceed with a hybrid storefront-online business model grew from Sara and Daniel’s desire to acknowledge the importance of face-to-face relationships in community building, while highlighting the economic importance of forging an online presence in today’s retail world.
Hoxton Home takes its name from a hip East London neighbourhood noted for independent boutiques and restaurants as well as a lively Bohemian arts scene. Much like the OCQ itself, Hoxton represents the potential of what’s possible in a post-industrial urban landscape. The couple frequently travels to London for visits with Sara’s family. It’s during those trips that they form the vision that’s helping them reshape Nanaimo’s retail landscape.
“Part of what fuels a lot of the original inspiration to open Hoxton Home is the fact that most of the shopping areas in Nanaimo run off the highway and are primarily corporate, big box stores,” Daniel says. “We were definitely more drawn to a neighbourhood feel.”
That neighbourhood feel is a big part of why Sara and Daniel relocated to Nanaimo from Vancouver about two years ago. Daniel, who spent many summers of his youth on the island, says time on this side of the Salish Sea played a big role in shaping his perspective and attitudes.
“We always knew we wanted to eventually relocate here,” Sara says. “COVID definitely accelerated the move.”
As anyone who’s made the move can certainly attest, the transition had its challenges. The couple admits there’s some adjustment to daily routines without having all the conveniences and options of life in a bigger city. Sara and Daniel spent two years building a small-footprint loft space not far from the store and have gradually shifted their focus from big city lights to calm island nights.
“The island forces more balance and we’re so grateful for that,” Sara says. “Everyday we wake up and look out our window onto the ocean, we walk the many beautiful trails with our dog, we’re less than five minutes to beach access, where we often swim. Dan cooks amazing dinners that we enjoy on our patio, and we spend a lot of time with family.
“The island has so much to offer as far as nature goes,” Sara says. “We’re learning new ways to embrace that side of ourselves.”
Visit hoxtonhome.com or drop by the store in person at 437 Fitzwilliam Street in Nanaimo. Be sure to check out oldcityquarter.com for additional information and a list of upcoming events in Nanaimo’s OCQ.