F!NDS offers Stratford unique artisanal experience

  • Business   Friday, February 11, 2022   Matt Harris

You can’t keep a good man or a good idea down. Mind you, it helps when the same man has that good idea, because then it’s only a matter of time.

Such is the case with F!NDS Decorative Treasures, an artisanal store that opened on Ontario Street just before Christmas 2021 and is the brain child of Carl May. Shoppers arriving at F!NDS will discover a myriad of interesting things to call their own, and if timed correctly you’ll find May there ready to tell you the story of how each item came to find its way to his shop.

To fully grasp the joy with which Carl plies his trade, you have to take a brief step back in time. Having battled cancer twice (and currently finding himself in remission for the second time, too), Carl is the former owner and operator of Texts And Tales in Tavistock. He and his partner/wife bought the Hope Street location and turned the former pizza joint into a place where they could sell children’s educational books along with some other unique treasures. A self-admitted motion junky who can’t sit still, Carl had to face facts in 2020 when his doctors gave him the bad news that cancer had come back to pay him a second visit.

“They told me I had to go back into the hospital for surgery again because I had relapsed and the cancer was back,” he said. “We had Texts And Tales for almost five years, and we went from selling children’s books to things like planters, hanging baskets, all sorts of stuff like that. Then COVID hit and then I was told about my cancer coming back, so I made the decision to sell the building and close. But by August of this past year, I was in remission again and I couldn’t sit still – I knew I wanted to do something again.”

That something became F!NDS. Just like he had before, Carl began looking for things that would complement the core of what his store was before so he could build his product line with quality over quantity. He also knew that he wanted to source his vendors from as close to home as he could, and it didn’t take long before he unearthed some gems.

“I brought the same idea from Texts And Tales to this place – I expanded the idea to be able to include more artists who are seniors (55 years of age and older),” he said. “About 90 per cent of the people that I deal with fall into that category. It’s not about money for them – they love creating and making something that authentic and unique. We work with them on consignment at first and then after a trial period, we buy their products to re-sell in the store. I can appreciate quality, especially when something is hand-made. Too many things now are mass produced. But doing things this way means I can ensure the people I deal with are compensated fairly for the work they’re doing.”

Craving something of quality is nothing new for shop owners, but Carl said his connection to working with local artists began through a chance connection while they were in Tavistock. When he would take a break outside the shop at Texts And Tales, he would frequently encounter Richard Adam. As they got to know each other, Carl learned that Adam hand-crafted salt and pepper mills. One things led to another, as they usually do in these types of stories.

“Richard would always walk by and we eventually connected through chatting with each other over coffee,” he said with a chuckle. “He would tell me all the time about how much he loved wood working, and then he showed me a grinder he’d made for his daughter. I asked him for a few more samples, and that’s how it started.”

Those sample sold out in less than two weeks, and that began his journey of mining untapped local talent to show others what they were capable of producing. While that was the origin story, the sequel is proving to be just as interesting.

Dan Mallet is a reclaimed wood artist from Windsor who runs Permanent Pallets, taking pallets and re-uses them to create furniture and wall art. Windsor is not local to Stratford (unless compared to say, Vancouver), but Mallet said that May sought him out after seeing his work at an antique mall.

“Carl was in the process of opening his new store and had approached one of his good friends about the direction he was taking – she suggested to him that he should come to where she worked and see my stuff,” Mallet said. “After viewing my work in person, he called to introduce himself. I’ve been wanting to expand so this was a perfect fit for me.”

According to May, Mallet’s work is among the more popular attractions at F!NDS, with several customers making numerous trips to view (and later purchase) his works. Having a space that puts a value on craftsmanship the way F!NDS does means a great deal to Mallet, and he’s not shy about sharing that gratitude.

“This definitely means a lot,” he said. “My furniture and wall arts are sold on several social media platforms, but in person they are much more interesting. I’m constantly fabricating and designing new pieces to sell and stock, which leaves me with no time to run a store – I also care for my brother, who is physically challenged, as well as my elderly father. I’m grateful for this opportunity that Carl has given to me. Having a store like F!NDS selling my designs provides a lot more attention to my brand when it comes to indoor shopping and social advertising, but is also provides a great social network for myself outside of working. Carl’s been extremely understanding and great to work with, and he knows the importance to have unique and hand-crafted products in our social fabric.”

Anyone who walks into the store will come face to face with the front counter. What makes that worth mentioning is the work of Kim McCarthy that calls the counter space facing the entry home. Her encaustic and mixed media work greets people as they begin their F!NDS experience, and McCarthy recalls how tickled she was upon discovering the store for the first time.

“I was intrigued by the name of the store, F!NDS, so I had to go in and explore,” she said. “I discovered a lovely, eclectic mix of products, and the artist in my was delighted to see local makers represented. It was a warm and inviting atmosphere, and I had a lovely chat with Carl, which led to me telling him about my art. I asked if he might consider carrying my art cards, and his genuine enthusiasm for my work sealed the deal.”

McCarthy’s cards are reproductions of her own original paintings, and having them in card form means her work can be seen more easily around the world. Having that work hand in hand with the chance to partner with another small business is an honour, in her words.

Carl said that at any given time in the store, the work of at least 10 different artisans is on display, and he makes sure there is a small write-up about each displayed with their products. It’s things like that in which he delights, giving customers the personal touch they crave but don’t always find elsewhere.

“I have people come from all over, from Toronto to Windsor to London,” he said. “People come to Stratford for special reasons, and I’m happy that they’re making my store a part of their trip experience. Stratford has a very strong ‘stroll around’ atmosphere, and I love being part of that.”

Business hours for F!NDS, located at 25 Ontario Street in Stratford, are currently Tuesday through Sunday 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., with the shop being closed on Mondays. As the pandemic eases and the tourist season begins again, Carl said they will adopt more seasonal hours. You can also find the store online at www.finds.stratford.com.