Anita Carroll was struggling to feed a young family on less than $10,000 a year when she made the decision to buy the business that became Posie Row & Co.
“I was penniless,” Carroll said Thursday while speaking at a Rotary Club of St. John’s meeting at the Sheraton Hotel. “I had no business plan, nothing.”
It was 1995 and Carroll had been working at Amos & Andes, a knitwear chain, at 210 Duckworth St. The owner was looking to get out of the business and, recognizing Carroll’s keen retail and managerial skills, wanted her to buy the business.
Carroll knew she couldn’t afford it, but having worked in retail her entire life, she wanted the chance to own her own business.
She managed to scrounge together $2,500 and walked into a Royal Bank of Canada branch to ask for a business loan and mortgage.
“They took a chance on me,” said Carroll, adding that such risky business ventures don’t get much financial support these days.
That gamble certainly paid off, as today Posie Row & Co. has grown to become one of the most popular, enduring and successful local businesses in the downtown core.
It’s one of the reasons why Carroll saw it was important to include smaller retail businesses in her expansion.
When Carroll purchased the neighbouring Tobin building — a property built in 1894 that was previously occupied by the Polyanna Antique store and Hutton’s music store before that — a few years ago, she later developed the upper floors and rented the rooms to smaller retailers. The expanded store officially opened last year.
“They’re just trying to make a living for themselves,” said Carroll, who initially thought about developing the upper floors for high-end apartments.
Growing up in St. John’s, she said she remembers downtown retail space being predominantly owned by larger businesses, such as Bowring’s and John Murphy’s Arcade. These days, she said, it’s hard for small business owners to afford any kind of space.
“I knew there was a lack of space (in the downtown area) to open smaller businesses and I knew it was expensive for them. There are a lot of barriers,” Carroll told The Telegram after the meeting.
“The way I went about starting my business with so little money and getting a mortgage based on next to nothing, I knew those things don’t happen anymore. It’s harder now to get into business. It’s harder to get loans and mortgages as a business, so it was nice to be able to help people out because it’s very difficult to get a start.”
The co-operative effort has been a huge success, she said.
For example, since moving to the Posie Row building, one of the retailers, Cast On! Cast Off! — a wool and knitting store — has doubled its business, Carroll said.
Other retailers in the building are: Pinpoint Ink, which features illustrations transferred to T-shirts and prints; Driven to Ink, which prints illustrations on cards; Britaniola Artisan Soaps, which sells soaps, bath bombs and other cosmetic products; The Fabric Merchant, which sells designer fabrics and high-end quilting fabrics and supplies; the Dabber Hashery, offering specialty cannabis supplies; Baddy Vinyl, which produces and sells everything from glassware, T-shirts and pictures to Mario gold lamps; Kyle Callahan Photography, where besides taking photos, Callahan creates imaginative photos; and Dead Issue, a store specializing in rock, punk and metal band merchandise and other accessories.
There’s also a room available for people to hold workshops or a pop-up gallery or store.
“Entrepreneurship is alive and well in St. John’s,” Carroll said. “There are so many selling their own things.”
Retailers’ rent — which is on a month-by-month basis — includes business taxes, internet system, advertising on behalf of the entire property, access to any equipment or tools in the building and street-front window space to advertise their business and products.
“It’s creating a place that people are curious about and want to come in and see,” said Carroll, whose business also supports various community fundraisers and events.
“It’s been good for Posie Row because more and more people are coming in and we’re funneling customers up to their businesses.”
In an industry in which many businesses drive to be competitive, Carroll said a little support for other businesses also goes a long way.
“It’s a very supportive environment,” Carroll said, “and we see it getting better and better.”