When Matt Lurie said it is hard to describe the Organic Garage in words and that you have to see it to really appreciate it, he was right.
His newest store – opened in July in west end Toronto’s Junction District – is a multi-layered visual delight. When you come in, it feels like you’ve entered a functioning modern art gallery, with graphics, paintings, signage and funky items and features throughout. It’s a bit Salvador Dali: 15,000 sq. ft. of functional health food store, with a bit of something old, something new, and something borrowed tossed in.
Matt – a proud fourth generation grocer – had a very clear vision for the store: he wanted something different, and he succeeded.
Organic Garage is in a very old building that has served multiple roles on the site of the former Maple Leaf Mills, which had operated from the 19th century. It has been brought back to life with entire new internal workings. Yet, Matt has paid tribute to the building’s and neighbourhood’s rich past with graphic touches throughout. Along the upper walls, above the regular store signage and fixtures, artists have roughed in vestiges of days past in the form of building exteriors. Matt commissioned a foundry to create aged and distressed brick in multiple colours, which were used to create these false building facades, passively peering on to the Organic Garage sales floor from above.
One of the faux buildings has a sign reading “Sunnybrook.” This is another subtle tribute to history, as Matt’s grandfather had operated a grocery store of the same name. Inside the front entrance is a plaque honouring his grandparents for the positive influence they had on him.
Under normal conditions, storeowners would do anything possible to avoid the handy work of graffiti artists. In Matt’s case, he invited a couple of them to be part of the creative process inside the store. Their artwork is prominently displayed on pillars and walls.
Usually, scaffolding is a temporary fixture used in construction. At Organic Garage, it has a permanent home along freezer door row. Matt explains: “This is usually one of the least intimate areas of any store. By adding the scaffolding, it suddenly transforms this area to a cozy, more intimate area.” The affect is achieved by the scaffolding’s walkway at roughly eight feet of height.
Matt purposely made sure the aisles are not too wide: still big enough to navigate, but not so big as to lose the feeling that the shopper is in a neighbourhood community market. Again, it’s a step toward creating intimacy.
There is significant recycling evident throughout the project. Above some aisles, 50-gallon drums were cut and painted to serve as lampshades. Some shelf covering includes aluminum taken from the company’s original Oakville store. “If you flip it over, “says Matt, “it says Organic Garage on the other side.”
Environmentally friendly refrigeration is utilized, with the majority of the cases being closed-door cases. All lighting in the store is LED.
There is a nice combination of both passive and digital signage used. The passive signage has been created to give it a distressed look, and it looks right at home. Much of the messaging in the signage is used to share positive messages or educate shoppers on the benefits of organic or features of the store.
Organic Garage is truly a food store, with 90 per cent of its inventory being food-based, including produce, grocery, bulk, a bakery, dairy, meat, grocery, frozen foods and prepared foods The other 10 per cent is evenly divided between HABA and supplements.
This is the third Organic Garage store – and the largest – and the selection of this location was very purposeful. “It was always the company’s intent to return to the area where our concept was born,” explained Matt. “As the founder of the High Park Organic Market, we already had a built-in clientele that stayed in touch with us throughout the time we have been in Oakville, asking us to return. Also, as part of our development strategy for the Toronto market, we needed a west-end store and this location’s demographics proved favourable. This is a younger area, with lots of young families and millennials, and it is densely populated. We plan to continue to engage the community through local events, tradeshows, direct to home mailers, and social media.”
Here are some of the things shoppers will find in the new location:
Organic Garage recently went public on the venture exchange TSX-V, and has announced plans for more new stores to open in the coming years. Hopefully, they all look and feel like this one on Junction Ave. If you are in Toronto for CHFA East in September, put a visit to this store on your to do list.
And Matt was right…you have to see it to appreciate it.
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