Non-store store puzzles city bureaucrats
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It’s an age-old truth: If you drop a shipping container in a parking lot, they will come.
Another age-old truth: If you drop a shipping container without the valid permits, even if there are none to be had, the city’s bylaw henchmen may come.
The curious have been dropping into JM & Sons, a renovated shipping container on Dundas St. W., to check out a pop-up store that features furniture and knickknacks made out of reclaimed wood.
It’s the brainchild of two old high school buddies, Junior Ayotte and Mackenzie Duncan.
“I built a coffee table years ago out of some nice old barn wood,” said Ayotte, 29. “It was hideous.”
Then he and Duncan built a coffee table together, sold it, and pocketed a profit. And a business was born.
“I probably didn’t have to get my MBA,” laughed Ayotte, who recently graduated from the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.
“We just wanted to show our stuff off over two or three weeks as a way to boost sales,” added Duncan, 30. “And renting retail space was too expensive.”
They wanted something that they could buy, plop down for a few weeks, then move elsewhere. Hence, shipping containers.
They found a shipping container dealer in Etobicoke, bought one for an undisclosed price and renovated it over several weeks, which included taking out one end and replacing it with Plexiglas to make it more un-shipping-container-like.
Shipping containers are hot right now — several food booths have popped up in them throughout Toronto in recent months.
So the pair called the city to figure out how to do this on the up-and-up. One bureaucrat bounced them to another, who sent them elsewhere; some said it was fine, others said it was a no-no, and still others had no clue.
Meanwhile, they used Google Maps to find a spot with a parking-spot’s worth of space for the container.
They found that spot on Dundas West at Unique Auto Service, where owner Arthur Avetisian listened to their unusual pitch.
“A shipping container to sell furniture?” asked Avetisian, wiping his greasy hands on his jumpsuit. “Sure. Whatever, it’s local, I support local business and I’m learning from these kids.”
So without a clear answer from the city, they set up shop anyway. They don’t actually sell their wares on-site; rather, it’s more of a showroom to display what is for sale on their website. That arrangement confounded the city’s bureaucrats.
When asked about the zoning of a non-store store, Richard Mucha, acting director of Municipal Licensing and Standards with the city, said it’s a bit of a grey area.
“If it’s not selling anything, it’s outside the scope of the bylaws,” Mucha said. “But the land is zoned for a garage, not a shipping container full of furniture. I don’t know, but we’ll likely investigate.”
The pop-up showroom will be around until Sept. 26, unless the city says otherwise. Then the container will go on tour, with short stints planned for New York City, Austin, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
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