LETHBRIDGE – What’s old is new again for a business that just opened its doors in downtown Lethbridge.
Conybeare Mercantile opened to the public earlier this week, using the name of its original owner, Charles Frederick Pringle Conybeare. It was built in 1891 at the corner of what is now 6 Ave. and 5 St. South.
After being occupied as a home until 1918 – with residents including Lethbridge’s first mayor, Charles Alexander Magrath – the building became a Jewish Synagogue with a residence for the Rabbi, before converting to Regal Grocery/Confectionary from 1942 to 1987.
Joseph Eufemia purchased and restored the building in 2014, and while he noted that a family member used it as a temporary space for their business last year, it has remained virtually empty for 31 years.
That is of course, until Lexi Fowler discovered it was available.
“My husband saw this retail building available – I was like, 'Let's go look at it!'” she said with an infectious smile, after showing a Lethbridge News NOW reporter around the property. “I hadn't a clue. Never once thought I'd be a shop owner. But when I walked in the door, it was so beautiful, and the feeling was like it needed me in here. So, I thought I'd bring it back to its historical originalness.
“I figured, why wouldn't I bring it back to a mercantile – which is a grocery store and home goods, tools, all the kind of goodness that you need downtown – cause there's nowhere to just go and get quick things… I wanted to have just an eclectic amount of stuff here that people can come grab, when they need it, until they can get to a big box store,” Fowler continued.
She moved quickly from there, opening the business less than three months after being handed the keys. Calling it a “community experience,” Fowler said family friends were happy to pitch in, helping with everything from painting, to moving their inventory in, to decorating.
As for the décor, some of the products they sell, and even Fowler’s attire – which matches the era the building was constructed in – she said that was an important part of the project for her.
“I have always been into antiques, I've always been into dressing-up the part – my wedding was actually 1800s [themed]. So, it's just part of my DNA,” Fowler said with a chuckle. “I like to can [food], I like cast-iron, I like to preserve food. I'm really just a jack-of-all trades – I come from the farm.”
With that in mind, Fowler made a point of bringing in products from local artisans, which includes fresh baking, jewelry, and sculptures made from recycled scrap-metal and flatware.
“We're trying to take things that normally aren't found in the community, that it's in people's homes or at the farmer's markets… so that we can have a more close-knit relationship with the artisans themselves and keep the money in Alberta,” explained Fowler.
With an eye to the future, Fowler said she also has plans for the basement and second floor of the building.
She’s hoping to rent out the top floor for events like board meetings or small Christmas parties, adding that one of the rooms could be used by local photographers as it retains many of its original features. Fowler said those interested are encouraged to come by and take a look.
For the basement, she intends to turn into a “man-cave,” with things like tackle and bait, potting soil and planters, and some tools. She quickly added that she will also take requests from people looking for certain products.
“I figured that we needed to come back to [being] community orientated, back to nature, back to learning how to preserve, save money... show the kids, pass on the knowledge,” said Fowler.
“I want this place to be as educational as it is facilitative.”
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