Shopkeeper Interviews: Caroline and Daniel of WALRUS

Five and a half years ago was a ballsy time to open a new retail shop in Vancouver - add a massive city infrastructure project on the same street and now you're really talking. However, Caroline Boquist and Daniel Kozlowski did just that when they opened WALRUS. We met them shortly after opening when our worlds intersected, and we've been friends ever since. The store is well-loved by passers-by and loyalists alike because of the excellent product mix and friendly & knowledgeable staff, all packed into a cozy space on Cambie Street.

Cursor & Thread: How’s your summer been? How’s the neighbourhood?

Daniel Kozlowski: Summer has been great! It’s sunny out and people are happy!

C&T: Congratulations on the success of the last 5+ years! Do you remember where you were the moment you officially decided to open the shop? Can you remember the feeling?

Caroline Boquist: I don’t remember the exact moment, but I do remember the feeling. I was excited, nervous, energized... I felt like it was now or never. 

C&T: Does that feel like ages ago, or three weeks ago?

DK: I can’t believe it has been 5½ years! It doesn’t feel that long ago to me but I guess that's a good thing!
CB: It does not feel like that many years ago. Time has flown by! 

C&T: What's one thing that really surprised you about running a shop?

DK: Paperwork!
CB: I was actually surprised how much I like it.

C&T: Well it shows - nothing worse than a disgruntled shopkeeper. How would you say retail has changed since you opened your doors?

DK: There is definitely more online shopping now but I think there is also more awareness of local shopping and local products which really serves us well. We have lots of clients who look for well made/functional products.
CB: Yes. When we opened WALRUS, we were in the height of the recession, so perhaps people in general have become a little more thoughtful with their spending. That being said, in the last five years, there are a lot more independent shops that have opened. I think we have an excellent selection of small local businesses in Vancouver – despite the increase of big chains moving into the city.

C&T: What's something you've learned about Vancouver or its people in that time? 

CB: I've heard people talk about how Vancouver people can be cold, and standoffish, but speaking specifically about our clients, they’re warm, loyal and enjoy shopping locally. We adore them!!

C&T: Well, as a customer, now I'm blushing. Which is more important now in brick and mortar, product mix or service, or is it still location cubed?

DK: I think both product choices and service are still very important.
CB: For WALRUS, I think it’s all three. We like to keep the selection changing, we strive to exceed client service and we chose a location where we’d be rooted in community while being easily accessible. Vancouver is a small town – it’s easy for us to stick to what’s around us, but important to make an effort to move around the city... see what’s out there, beyond our own neighbourhood.  We love discovering the other neighbourhoods as much as we can! I think people are getting used to destination shopping. 

C&T: How have you noticed design change in the last five years?

DK: We see a lot more colour.
CB: Referencing my previous comment on how people are shopping – I feel like inventive design is becoming more and more challenging. There is so much out there! With the increasing popularity of 'the general store' concept over the last five years, people seem to be yearning for an old or familiar aesthetic. Some design is being dictated by that desire. Familiar shapes, materials... I think design is coming back to natural materials. I’m wanting to see more organic/tactile pieces in a contemporary form: playful, functional, colourful. At least that’s what I’m finding myself drawn to more and more over the last five years. 

C&T: It's great that you get to curate your offerings to what you want to see in the marketplace. Most people have to wish and hunt for what they want. On that note, what are the top five brands you're really excited about?

DK: Well, it’s the end of the summer but I really like the sunglasses from D’Blanc. We just placed our order for Native Shoes for Spring 2015 and there are some great new styles. (Cursor & Thread of course!)

C&T: What are your top five other shops that you like right now.

DK: I like food a lot, so I have to say Beaucoup Bakery, The Fish Counter on Main St, and Matchstick Coffee.
CB: Oliver & Lilly’s, BeautyMark, The Juice Truck, The Block, Matchstick, Merci.

C&T: If your shop was a person or a mix of people, who would that/they be?

CB: This is a question I’d like to ask you!

C&T: Geez, OK... The Hives come to mind, Paul Smith, modern mods and well dressed gents in general, but I don't think you can just avoid a question like that though...

CB: OK (but I just did).

C&T: Well played Caroline. What's your favourite piece of men's formal wear to see worn casually?

CB: Bow ties.

C&T: Can you personally tie a bow tie while wearing braces, and whistling?

DK: Nope, I have to watch the instruction on YouTube!

Many thanks to Daniel and Caroline for taking the time to chat with us, and for having one of the best curated design gift boutiques on the planet at 3408 Cambie Street in Vancouver, Canada.



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