Ontario’s smaller towns and cities have been given new life thanks to the touches of young Torontonians who have swapped the city concrete for a slower, quainter life – and are making a profit in the process.
It was the quest for less daily chaos that led them to open up shop outside of Toronto – whether this meant hopping on board Hamilton’s growing restaurant scene or opening a motel in Prince Edward County (PEC).
“The daily grind in Toronto was no longer as fulfilling as it once was when we were in our early 20s. We started to dream about having something of our own, a new creative outlet,” says April Brown opened the doors to The June Motel in PEC a year ago with her business partner Sarah Sklash. “Sarah and I were looking for that next chapter in both our careers and personal lives. Purchasing a vintage roadside motel introduced us to a whole new world. We were suddenly challenged in new ways, and we had endless opportunity to be creative in how we transformed not only the look and feel of the place, but the entire experience of staying at a motel.”
The 16-room motel offers a hip, retro vibe that’s full of talking points (including very Instagrammable wallpaper) and caters to wine lovers, given the surrounding vineyard-filled real estate. A yoga-filled hippie haven, the motel has a mandate to spread good vibes and celebrate amazing wine. “We’ve reinvented the motel experience, with a strong focus on millennial travellers, who are looking for that unique, well-curated and personalized experience,” says Brown. The pair did the renovations entirely themselves – a testament to girl power.
With its growing popularity, PEC is no longer a hidden gem. Both Brown and Sklash were longtime visitors, and Sklash and her boyfriend had bought a cottage in the area. “This motel had merely come up in conversation, but we instantly thought ‘we should buy that motel,’” says Brown. “We drove out to look at it one week later, two months later put in an offer and less than six months from that initial conversation, we moved into the dingy roadside motel that it once was.” (Both still keep condos in Toronto).
The June is all about supporting other local businesses. “PEC is a true community; everyone really rallies for you and supports one and another,” says Brown. “Currently we’re working with Sunday’s Company, Small Town Juicery and Perfect Little Bake Shop. Our mantra is that if everyone around us succeeds, we’ll succeed too.”
Not too far away in PEC, two Toronto sisters and their husbands have a new bed and breakfast called The Edward. Located on 75 acres of sprawling property, the three-suite B&B is designed with a focus on simplicity, mindfulness and well-being, complete with homemade breakfasts that feature PEC’s best fruits, cheeses, preserves and breads. It invites guests to relax and indulge in as much yoga and firelight stargazing as they do in the wine. There’s even the option of an in-room massage.
Like Brown and Sklash, the team behind it was over the Toronto lifestyle. “We all worked so hard in the city, often committing to long hours on high-stress projects. Each of us felt like burnout was only a matter of time,” said Rebecca Brunette. She wasn’t the only one to reassess the Toronto grind. “The ability to spend time with our families and best friends was high on our lists,” said Payam Shaician. “We also value meeting new people, listening to stories and sharing good food.” The team lives and works under one roof and sets their own hours, allowing them to work on passion projects on the side. “The Edward B&B is more than just a place to stay; we’re building a lifestyle brand that captures the essence of the County, including what matters to the community,” said Rebecca.
“We’re here to help meet the growing demand. When we host, we represent the County, contribute to the PEC brand and support local businesses through collaborations,” adds Jessica Brunette. Contrary to fear of some locals that PEC will be destroyed by the influx young Toronto yuppies, the owners of The Edward are not in the business of disrupting a good thing. ““When we moved here, we committed to being stewards of the land. Preserving this acreage and its wildlife plays an important part in preserving the identity of the County,” said Manolis Vranas.
It’s not just PEC that’s caught the attention of young people. In Collingwood, Andy Roth’s trendy Toronto barbershop The Crow’s Nest – which has both a Kensington Market location and one in the Drake General Store – has recently opened up shop.
While these young entrepreneurs are undoubtedly helping these smaller spots grow, at a time when Toronto is more chaotic than ever, it seems the small towns are saving them as well.
What do you think of the influx of young entrepreneurs moving into small towns? Let us know in the comment section or tweet us at @Viewthevibe.