By John Swartz
When Janet Grand took over The Bird House Nature Company 20 years ago the road to here wasn’t a clear cut path.
“Oh I had no idea. How can you possibly know?” she said.
Owning a store wasn’t, and this particular kind of store wasn’t, a goal or life dream. As a customer, she like The Bird House so much, she bought the company.
“A young couple, Greg and Cathy Sadowski, had actually opened the store two years before, and they decided it wasn’t for them. Greg said to me one day, ‘it’s for sale, do you want it?’ I said, ‘yeah, let me just check with the family and see how they feel about it,’ and I bought it,” she said.
The store was originally located on the south side of Mississaga Street a few doors up from the corner of Front. It only took two years to outgrow it because of her enthusiasm for nature and birds drew customers.
“I liked the idea of teaching people about nature. Our motto is you usually leave this store knowing more about nature than when you came in,” she said.
“We knew we needed more space. This (108 Mississaga Street East) became available. We moved in here after refinishing and redoing the floors and the walls, drywall and wood, and all kinds of stuff. It took weeks and weeks to put it together and 5 years ago we took over the other side and created this whole in the wall (between storefronts) to open it up.”
Behind the scene, her husband, Ron Reid, helps out, except for the moving part.
“Oh Ron did all the work, except for my landlord, Werner (Rohman), sandblasted the walls,” she said of the renovations before moving in.
”My husband helps a lot. He builds things for me, bird houses and feeders and things like that. Ron Reid specials, Blackwaterfoot Originals. He’s not just another pretty face. Not just another fine mind I should say,” she laughed.
Five years ago Rohman reclaimed the facade of the building The Bird House is in, and Grand decided a new sign was in order. She chose to use the colours from the ornamental elements of the building. It looks great and compliments the work down across the road at Mariposa Market.
“I think we have the best location,” downtown said Grand.
While the name is The Bird House, Grand has a lot more than bird houses, like seed (15 varieties), suet, books on birds, all kinds of other feeders, and the most important thing – squirrel thwarting devices.
“It’s all (seeds) bee friendly, which means they haven’t used pesticides on it, and non-GMO, which is kind of cool,” she said.
When you step into the store, you’ll notice hundreds of other items too. There are the garden gnomes, hangers, knick knacks and wind chimes, does she have a lot of wind chimes.
“Over the years we added all kinds of gift wear. Lots of garden décor. I like things that hang. And when we added in over here (in the newest part of the store) we added a lot more, wall art, bigger garden kinds of items and a little bit of furniture,” she said.
But it’s the birds driving most of the business during the busy season from April to January.
“We have lots of people who have never tended to birds before and they are interested in how to do it and what sorts of things to use,” she said.
“I so much enjoy the people. Our customers are wonderful. They are great to deal with, they are interesting and they like to chat, because I like to talk.” As a go to for bird seed and such, many people are surprised by what they find on a first visit.
“The collection of items we have is a surprise to people. And I think they also really like that its, I don’t want to say pretty, very comfortable and very welcoming. My staff are very welcoming as well.”
There’s one thing, just by the cash register, which seems totally out of place in a store like The Bird House.
“I’d say coffee surprises people. They don’t get the connection between our migratory songbirds and coffee production. Sometimes they want to know, ‘is this for people?’ They think you give it to the birds.”
” (Its) Bird friendly coffee. Its fair trade and organic. The growers make a commitment to maintaining the upper level of the canopy forest and that’s where many of our birds winter, where this coffee is grown”
Flipping surprised impressions around, she has a revelation about people who shop downtown.
“What a lot of people don’t realize is there’s a huge number of people who visit Orillia for a day. They come from all over the province, all the way from Sudbury, I’ve got customers from Cochrane, North Bay, Kingston, all over the place. Orillia downtown is a destination for those people. They come to spend a day in Orillia, or two days in Orillia,” she said.
While there may be other stores that sell bird seed, or bird houses and accessories, The Bird House certainly is an eye full when first encountered compared to other stores in the same line of business.
“I don’t think any of them do it quite the way we do with the giftware and the garden ware and the décor, I think we’re pretty unique actually,” she said.
The big question is, will there be a 40 year anniversary?
“You never know what life is going to throw at you. That’s the answer.”
(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia) Janet Grand, of The Bird House Nature Company, chats with customer Warren Ryckman.