a peek inside the fishbowl

29 Feb, 2020

Reflecting on the closure of our local toy store

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Ottawa

Ottawa blog readers are probably already aware that Mrs. Tiggywinkle’s is closing. Today is the last day for the Westboro store. The Glebe store is due to close in March.

Lots of shops have come and gone in Westboro over the years. I lost my hair dresser. I used to buy magazines and newspapers at Britton’s. There was a cool second-hand clothing shop, an antique shop, a shoe repair guy (he moved to the mini-mall at Carling and Sherbourne, btw), a candy store, a lovely bakery, and that’s just a few from a long list. To be fair, on that long list of closures were many stores that didn’t hold much appeal to me: clothing for fishing enthusiasts, a shop that sold high-end spa products, hydroponics.

When we first moved to Westboro from Hintonburg in 1997 there wasn’t much going on here commercially. Other than Newport Restaurant (which was on the corner of Richmond and Churchill at that time and had a convenience store inside it), a pharmacy (which was across the street from Newport before it moved to Richmond and Roosevelt), and our bank (an RBC on the corner of Richmond and Roosevelt) that little stretch was a bit of a dead zone. When MEC came along and built on the site of a former grocery store, it changed everything. Suddenly there was a burst of growth, which included a new coffee shop called Bridgehead. Wow! Suddenly Westboro was an up-and-coming neighbourhood (“The New Glebe”) and people wanted in. It was an exciting time.

In those days our daughters were very young and I worked from home part time. I remember putting the youngest in the stroller and taking the other one by the hand for walks down to Westboro Village for toddler-sized adventures. Sometimes this involved an errand, like a trip to the post office or the pharmacy, but more often than not the goal was to buy a coffee and a newspaper. More importantly, I wanted to feel like I was part of The Real World.

Sometimes we’d pop by our neighbourhood bakery. I’d buy each girl a sweet bun and we’d eat them on a park bench across the street at All Saint’s church while watching the traffic go by. (Sidebar: we must have done this a LOT because last year I was at a restaurant with a bunch of people and a fellow who worked there recognized me from the bakery! It turned out his father owned the bakery and he worked there, er, probably 17-18 years ago. Isn’t that wild?)

I am not exaggerating when I say those little expeditions with the kids saved my sanity as a new mom. They were destinations with a purpose – a place to go, things to see, buy, consume – which contributed greatly to my mental health as a sleep-deprived parent who sometimes (who am I kidding, OFTEN) didn’t have time to shower, and cried a lot.

Walking down to the village made me happy, it still does.

Suddenly we were in a cool neighbourhood that had a lot of useful retail in it, all accessible by foot. I was thrilled when Tiggy’s moved in.

Shops like Tiggy’s add something important to a walkable neighbourhood like Westboro: browseability. I’m not sure if that’s even a word, but it’s a key element of the kind of community I want to live in.

I’d pop my head in there almost every time I walked by, whether I had kids with me or not. I shopped there for birthdays, Christmas, care packages, and just because. And it wasn’t just about gifty things either. I bought things for myself there too, candy or an enamel pin that caught my eye. I didn’t buy something every time I was there, of course. Sometimes I’d just poke around, check out the new games and puzzles and Lego.

It’s nice to have the option to simply browse, and this is something that has been eroding in Westboro. As much as I enjoy our selection of restaurants and coffee shops, you can’t really browse there. Nor can you browse in a real estate office, travel agency, nail salon, or bank. These are practically dead spaces to me. Sure, they might be useful to some, on occasion, but I’m likely to walk past them with my head down en route to some of my remaining favourite shops, such as The Village Quire.

Dropping into a shop isn’t just about shopping (as much as the shop owner would like it to be). Sometimes it can be a social event. I chat with staff. Sometimes I run into a friend or neighbour. It provides something important that’s hard to put my finger on. Dare I say that it’s food for the soul? It sounds cheesy to put it that way, but in a retail world that is increasingly automated and anonymous, those shops make us feel like we are part of something special, part of a community that Has Things of Value. Of course, this also includes things like grocery stores, schools, and parks. If you imagine Things of Value like a giant pie chart, which parts of the pie are shrinking?

Now that Tiggy’s is off the Westboro map, along with another favourite browsing destination, Ten Thousand Villages, I wonder what will replace these stores. Will it be like the bike shop on the corner of Churchill and Richmond? It’s been closed for almost a decade.

Tiggy’s had wide appeal. It appealed to a broad demographic, and it was accessible. Anyone could shop there and not feel out of place. You can’t say the same for some of the high-end clothing shops that populate this neighbourhood.

For sure, we still have MEC, our pharmacies and our coffee shops. There’s the farmers’ market in the summer and fall. Our favourite sushi place is a short walk away. Fresh baguettes and french pastries are practically a stone’s throw from our home. Just last night Mark and I had a lovely date at Trio Lounge. We imbibed and didn’t have to drive or Uber home. I accept that change is inevitable but I also worry that someday there won’t be anything for me here anymore. Surely I am not alone in that.


5 Responses to "Reflecting on the closure of our local toy store"

1 | Patti

February 29th, 2020 at 10:35 am

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I’m truly devastated for them. As a toy shop owner it breaks my heart. What is Wonderful about local shops is that they want to support each other. Often if we didn’t have an item I’d send customers there or I’d call them to ask and vis versa . Tiggy Winkles have created unique & special memories for children and families. This is what worries me children & families won’t have that magical feeling of walking into Toy Stores being able to touch and feel & test out the new items. You can‘t create those special memories by clicking away online. I wish them them well as I know this has been a very difficult decision for them. Please continue to shop & support Local Brick & Mortar when you can.

2 | Brien

February 29th, 2020 at 11:53 am

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Well put! If you look at old pictures or memories on facebook pages like Lost Ottawa, people remember stores, shops, the owners, the staff. Nobody will be reminiscing about a suburban mall parking lot franchise 40 years from now. “Gee, remember the Mucho Burrito at the South Keys mall?” (No offence to them.)
Your browsability comment hit home. I think that’s why I like to check out Nostalgia Watehouse (on Armstrong) all the time. That said, it would be nice to have a “modern” store like TiggyWinkles to create memories for today’s shoppers.

3 | Anne

February 29th, 2020 at 12:53 pm

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Very true Andrea! Walking into Westboro with my baby was a daily, sanity saving activity for me too! I’m so grateful to the volunteer staff at 10,000 Villages who gave me adult company on those early years! It was also great exercise. These little stores also offer great customer service—we bought most birthday presents at Tiggy’s because they could help us pick out high quality, age appropriate and fun toys. Plus they wrapped gifts which saved us money and time. Businesses do have life cycles (before MEC was the fantastic framing shop in the little yellow house and a wonderful hardware store…) but it is concerning to see how our Main Street is changing…Village Quire is one of the few places left to browse & buy pretty gifts! I’m hoping Tiggys is replaced by a bookstore or a shop of some sort. Fingers crossed.

4 | Molly van der Schee

February 29th, 2020 at 5:01 pm

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This is very well put and I couldn’t agree more! I love poking around the little shops – be it Westboro, Wellington West or the Glebe. When I moved to Ottawa twenty years ago I didn’t know a single soul. Not one. I had a government contract and that took care of Monday – Friday. The weekends found me splitting my time between the Byward Market and the Glebe. I rarely landed at a mall. Those neighbourhoods and little shops helped me feel a little less lonely. I keep my fingers crossed that landlords and the City will wake up to the fact that it is going to take a lot more than #shoplocal to keep our mainstreets alive. I don’t have the answer but it I do know it takes a community to keep a community.

5 | Lynn

March 4th, 2020 at 9:53 am

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I live in Kanata so we’ve never had this style of living – shops are grouped in large shopping areas and you have to drive to get there. But I do value the Glebe and Westboro for the feeling they bring to the city as a whole. It’s sad to think that this style of living – almost small-town-ish – is fading from the world in general.

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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