When Leslie Ibbotson made her exciting decision to open an antique store in Virgil, where she grew up, her planned opening was April 2020.
Selling antiques has been a career for her, but this would be her own business, and she had found the perfect location — the former fruit and vegetable co-op on Four Mile Creek Road, a 1930s building with original beams, hardwood floors, a welcoming fireplace and a beautiful covered porch that would be an extension of the store.
“It lends itself perfectly to an antique store,” says Ibbotson, and has become the new home of Antiques on Creek, with eight “fabulous vendors selling top-shelf, one-of-a-kind treasures.”
Her opening was planned for April, 2020, but of course no one could have predicted what was about to happen — the town suddenly in a state of emergency, businesses shut down and residents being urged to stay home.
“I couldn’t have picked a worse time,” says Ibbotson, her dream opening delayed because the world was suddenly in the early throes of a pandemic.
She was able to proceed with her plans in June, with doors officially open to a welcoming interior and the porch drawing people with its elegant vintage clothes and unique antiques.
It was a “fabulous” summer for the fledgling business, with visitors from the region and Toronto, and many locals who are antique lovers becoming loyal, repeat customers, says Ibbotson. “The local support was really touching.”
She wouldn’t have chosen to open a business anywhere else than the place where she grew up, and the love of antiques was inspired by her father, Svend Mikkelsen, a master Danish carpenter, and her mother, Marjorie, a quilter and artist at heart.
Growing up, Ibbotson says she spent Saturday mornings with her father going to the local dump, where she and her siblings were allowed to choose something to recycle. She worked alongside her father recreating and restoring furniture and collectibles, and remembers the first antique she reupholstered and sold, a Bergère chair which she discovered at a local yard sale. Her mother shared her love for fabrics and taught her how to sew.
Opening an antique store in Virgil gives her the opportunity to share her love of old treasures, and offers a place for locals and visitors to town to gather and share in their love of history and antiques, she says.
But just six months after opening, she was closed again, along with other non-essential retailers, and is happy to be open once again, even with a five-person limit and all the protocols of a pandemic to follow.
It’s a snowy winter day when Ibbotson talks to The Local, and weekdays are quiet, she says. Weekends are busier, although “not crazy by any means.”
She continues to get customers from Toronto and the GTA making day trips to NOTL, she says, “not anybody’s preference” under the circumstances, but she is pleased to see anybody who walks through her doors. Ibbotson does some promotion on Facebook and Instagram, “but it’s very difficult to sell antiques online. It’s really a business meant for in-store shopping.”
And that’s what she is meant for as well. She’s a people person, she explains, loves her work — which, as the saying goes, never feels like work — loves to have people in the store, loves to chat, and loves her hometown. “This is where I’m happiest,” she says. “I love my life.” Which is just as well, considering she typically works seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the other dealers taking shifts so there are two people in the store every day. Consistent hours, she says, even during a pandemic, are really important.
She’s created a welcoming atmosphere with the cozy seating area by the fire, books and local newspapers close by for husbands who want to relax while wives look around, and a comfortable spot for her on quiet days.
She’s excited to have Cheese Secrets from Market Street also coming to add another attraction for visitors.
There will be a couple of tables in the store for those who would like tea, coffee, or a cold drink. There will be a small selection of cheeses available, and charcuterie, along with boxed lunches for those going on bicycle tours, she says, and when the weather improves, a few tables out on the porch.
Listening to Ibbotson, it’s quickly evident where her love lies. She’s been an antique collector for as long as she can remember, and a long-time dealer in Lakeshore Antiques and Treasures, where she continues to sell her treasures, as do some of her Antique on Creek dealers.
She has watched the ebb and flow of the antique business in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and would like to see it return to the “mecca of antiquing” it has been in the past, believing passionately in the value of having a thriving community of antique stores in town as a visitor attraction.
“I’m hell-bent on making it what it once was,” she says, noting there are several other great antique stores scattered around town, although it’s a difficult business to operate on Queen Street, with its high rents.
“The more we have here, the better it is for everybody. Back in the day there used to be an antiques map for tourists.”
Although there’s no way to know where we’ll be with pandemic restrictions this summer, Ibbotson has no doubt the good weather will bring another wave of visitors, and antiques will be one more attraction to help make NOTL the destination it always is.