You can’t visit Watson & Lou’s brick and mortar storefront at the moment, so for now a description will have to do. The space is eclectic, bright, and inviting – you can’t miss the colourful dioramas in the window as you head down Peterborough’s Water Street. Inside you’ll find elegant wabi-sabi style pottery alongside handmade dayglo dice for tabletop gamers, and felted faux taxidermy shares wall space with prints from an antique letterpress. Small blocks beside each collection identify the local artisan at work. Come back a month later, and there might be a fresh allotment of accessories and art to see.
Watson & Lou’s storefront is closed until at least February 10 in observance of Ontario’s stay at home order, but fortunately their website captures the vibe. Like everyone, owners Erin Watson and Anna Eidt are adapting to life under COVID on the fly, finding new ways to keep their consignment-based art and design store relevant online. They credit their continued success to a supportive community. “We don’t do this just because we like stuff,” says Eidt, over a Zoom conference call. “That part is nice, but the best part of it is the connections with the people who made the stuff and learning about how they made the stuff and the significance of it, and what those things mean to the people who are gifting them.”
The duo met as participants in a Peterborough entrepreneurial contest, combining Watson’s last name and a family nickname of Eidt’s when they went into partnership. They built relationships with makers around town and solicited advice from local business advisories in the run up to their grand opening in 2017. Since then, they’ve worked to pay that support forward. Shipping is available across Canada, but local delivery is free. Over the past several months they’ve channeled a portion of the profits into charitable donations, with contributions going to YES Shelter for Youth and Families, the United Way, and The Theatre on King.
According to Watson, those local connections aren’t just a feel-good bonus – they’re the foundation of Watson & Lou. “We carry stuff that other places don’t carry,” she says. “You could go into other stores downtown or other big box stores and you’re gonna get things that are more widely available. We tend to carry things that are a little bit more niche, and a little bit more… sassy.”
That description fits unique Peterborough-area artists like Amber Johnson of Birchwood Fine Art, who creates characterful fibre art inspired by the natural world. It certainly suits printmaker Jeffrey Macklin of Jackson Creek Press, whose use of antique printing presses provides a counterpoint to his modern experiments with text. And it makes Watson & Lou a logical home for the environmentally conscious artists like screen printer James Hodgson of Nish Tees, who uses Canadian-made garments on his retro-inspired apparel. Same goes for Nikki Cobden of The Inspired I, who uses a labour-intensive technique called sandcasting to make one-of-a-kind jewelry using recycled silver.
All told, Watson & Lou fosters a sense of collaborative enterprise. Special events have been suspended during the pandemic, but in more social times the store was a popular stopping point for the Peterborough Art Crawl and offered regular instructional workshops. “That was something we wanted to share,” says Watson. “Don’t just come and look at cool creative things. Come and make something and take it home and have that in your home.” Partnered artists like Leslie Menagh of Madderhouse Textile Studios supplied the studio time and knowledge to teach skills like screen printing and dyeing. Menagh has since found a way to keep the collaborative spirit alive under COVID with initiatives like the Newcomer Sewing Crew, which provides entrepreneurial opportunities to women new to Canada. The Crew’s work is available through Watson & Lou.
That sense of connection has been an important hedge against the most draining aspects of self-isolation. It hasn’t been easy (mid-interview, Watson reorients the camera to show her young son drawing beside her as proof of her multitasking chops), but with Watson mostly handling the administrative back end of the business while Eidt manages inventory and marketing, they’ve made it work. If anything, the experience has underscored the importance of the project to themselves personally and to the community at large.
“Many people have told us that they went out of their way to source all of their holiday gifts locally,” Eidt says. “So that was really exciting to see, people are truly understanding that okay, if I want cool things to exist in my neighbourhood you know, it’s up to us to support them. That seems to be mainstream thinking now, and we’re really excited by that and we hope that there will be more stores like Watson & Lou happening everywhere.”
It’s a generous and hopeful sentiment to end on. At a time when good news feels in short supply, it’s especially heartening to be reminded of the creativity and goodwill in one’s own backyard.
Are you enjoying our Meet the Makers series? Please consider supporting the small businesses in your community this winter, as they rely on our support now more than ever. Reinvesting in our communities allows our hard-working artisans continue doing what they love – and allows us to continue enjoying the beauty they create.