Downtown Victoria has a beautiful new general store on Fort Street, aptly named Belle General.
The shop features plenty of local products, colourful homewares, gifts & cards, plant based/vegan snacks, baked goods from Working Culture Bread and a focus on sustainable living and women lead producers and makers.
We asked boss lady Katie a few questions about her gorgeous new shop & what its been like to launch Belle in this little city. Read the interview below.
It seems that the concept of the General Store has really made a comeback in the recent years, why do you think that is?
Oooooo, great question! Maybe it’s the recent (ish) popularity of Schitt’s Creek (and the fictitious yet fabulous Rose Apothecary), or perhaps we’ve all been rewatching our VHS copies of Anne of Green Gables (give me a store with bulk brown sugar, garden rakes and puffed-sleeved dresses any day!) … Truthfully, I think they’re just a lot of fun to shop in, and we’ve all been sorely lacking in fun lately.
How has Belle General been received downtown and further afield in Victoria?
I could not have dreamed or schemed of a better reaction and reception to the shop. I am honestly amazed, humbled, thrilled (and terrified – what if it all changes overnight???) by the kind words and enthusiasm of the people coming through our doors (and sliding into my DMs). While a lot of these wonderful humans live and/or work downtown, we’ve also received a ton of love from the vegan community as a whole (since the shop is 99.9% plant-based). I actually had two delightful women drive down from Nanaimo this week, JUST TO BUY VEGAN SNACKS!!!
What is like to launch a business in the middle of a pandemic?
Exhilarating and terrifying, but then I imagine it would be both of these things outside of a pandemic as well! I think everyone has experienced huge amounts of stress, fear and exhaustion this past year, so I don’t want to suggest that my situation is any harder than anyone else’s. I do think that pre-pandemic, I would have benefitted from being able to draw more people into the planning and physical launching of the shop. The flip side is that the community has been very supportive and encouraging (I get a lot “you are so brave to be doing this”, which is really lovely to hear)! There’s also amazing camaraderie with other small business owners who either launched during the pandemic or who have been working incredibly hard to pivot and make things work during a year of non-stop changes and hurdles.
What is the biggest lesson or take away from the last year?
Nothing is guaranteed, and no thing is as important as your people. The former has allowed me to handle the loss of multiple opportunities (businesses that failed to launch and jobs that I wasn’t hired for etc), and the latter has helped me to gain some perspective and live out my values a bit better. Also, kindness costs you nothing and usually begets more kindness!
You are quite zany & joyful on social media. How important is social media for your business & do you have any special tricks that have helped?
Ha! The social media side of the business has been a real delight, and also a total surprise success (at least so far. I’m still waiting for people to realize my puns are terrible, and that I shouldn’t be encouraged). Based on the number of times people have referenced IG (either the shop account or someone sharing pics/video of the shop via their stories), I would say that social media is incredibly important for us.
My trick right now is just me being myself (minus some poop jokes, which my husband and friends have vetoed. I might drop a few in at some point though …). Personally, I am daunted by the idea that social media feeds need to be perfectly curated, with carefully selected filters and highly edited photos. I have great respect for people who can maintain the perfect feed, but I just don’t have the desire to be one of them (so everyone is just stuck with whatever pops into my head each morning).
Angela Lansbury makes several appearances throughout your insta-feed. Why the love affair with the Murder She Wrote star?
WHERE DO I BEGIN??? It is with great shame that I must admit that I am currently giving money to Jeff Bezos (via my Prime account) so that I may daily indulge in my Angela obsession with Murder She Wrote reruns. Maybe it’s her soothing voice or her kind eyes? It could also be her ability to transform any script into a cinematic masterpiece (she really carries the weight of the series in several seasons). I can’t pinpoint one specific thing, but I love her with a ferocity usually reserved for snacks and fluffy cats.
You have really focused on offering ethical and sustainable goods and products. Do you have a current fave?
That’s like asking a parent who their favourite child is (of course in this scenario the child is eaten … ). Well, that got weird quickly!
Ok, here are some current favourites: the entire Apprenti Organik hemp-based skin care line (handcrafted in Montreal and packaged in biodegradable corn-based bottles), Mouche bamboo facial tissues (unbleached bamboo tissues housed inside of the prettiest plastic-free boxes), the entire line of Kolsvart Swedish gummy candies (not only are they ridiculously delicious, but they come in waxed paper bags), Yoggu! coconut yogurt and Mumgry peanut butters (I love that the women who run both of these businesses have chosen to use glass jars instead of plastic containers!!!), and oh-so many more goodies!
Who inspires you in Victoria?
The dozens of women who are running rad businesses all over town! Specifically? I am really inspired by Tarn (Dumpling Drop), Brooke & Liz (Local Assembly, Never Ending Weekend), Jess (SALT Shop), Karin (Kay’s Korner), Jamie (and Jesse of Hide + Seek), Jess (and Adam of Working Culture Bakery), and Eryn (Luna) to name a few. This city is not lacking for inspiration!
What is your favourite local hang out/event in Victoria (either to grab a bite or enjoy a cocktail). – this could be a fave event too, or patio or market – something about Victoria that you love,… 🙂
I love popping down to both of the Hide + Seek locations for a coffee and casual beach stroll, and now that I’m just across the street, I am VERY excited about the various summer events happening at the Fort Commons. I’m also a sucker for any and all farmers markets and outdoor festivities involving food and drinks. Give me snacks and sunshine, and I’m a happy camper.