Montréal is one of the best cities in the world, and whenever we're there, we spend as much time in Mile End and The Plateau as possible. In those streets you'll find community, history, entertainment, and Scott Meleskie of Clark Street Mercantile. We love all our retailers but CSM is a special place for us because of our relationship with the city, and with Scott, but also because he started the same year we did. He is so meticulous with his shop and its brand mix that it's worth a visit just to see the layout on that particular day. When you do pop in, give yourself a good amount of time to take it all in (and say hi for us).
Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
Scott Meleskie: Born and raised in Montreal, save a few years spent in Edmonton and Winnipeg. I grew up playing basketball, skateboarding and playing music. Professionally I worked in advertising for some years before opening up the shop.
How do you take your tea or coffee?
SM: Coffee only, black.
Fairmount of St.Viateur Bagels? (We know you have your vicinity to worry about.)
SM: I’ve always been a Fairmount Bagel guy, even before they were my neighbours! So that’s an easy answer. There’s nothing better than scooping some Liberty cream cheese with a warm, fresh Fairmount bagel.
When did you know that you were going to take the jump and open your first store? Scary or thrilling?
SM: I think most people will tell you it’s a little bit of both! Of course you have to enjoy the thrill of creating something from scratch, but the uncertainty around not knowing whether or not your vision will play out as you expect it to can be stressful at times. I certainly didn’t plan on opening the store when I did, but the pieces sort of just came together all at once and I just had to jump in.
How long did it take you to plan and launch, and when was opening day?
SM: I quit my “day job” in advertising in December 2012, with the idea of freelancing for a bit. But things kind of skipped a few steps and I was signing a commercial lease in February a few months later. I then got to work on everything you need to do to start a brand & open a store… from branding to inventory. Definitely a very short timeline! But luckily I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do in my head already. We opened our doors at the end of June 2013.
It’s a great name for the shop, had you decided before you found the space that you would match the name structure to whatever street you ended up on?
SM: No not at all, as I really wasn’t at all planing on opening up shop at the time we found the space. I was really inspired by the idea of opening a shop with a local neighbourhood general store feel. So the name is a reflection on that philosophy. I also liked the origins and definition of the word “Mercantile”, which as it happened means the exact same thing in english as it does french, a very important detail being from a french-speaking city.
How did you choose the location? How do you like the area?
SM: The location kind of chose itself, we happened to be walking by the space that would become the shop one day by accident, it had just been vacated the day before and we jumped on it. When I envisioned the shop, I couldn’t imagine it in any other area of the city. The Mile End is an amazing neighbourhood to live in, to work in, or to visit… It has a certain vibe to it that you can’t find anywhere else. There are so many great independent shops, world class restaurants and interesting people in our vicinity, it’s truly inspiring. There are shops popping up every day, just as there are some places celebrating 85 years in business. It’s a great blend of old and new.
What’s one thing that you’ve learned, and that’s really surprised you since opening?
SM: One of the many things that surprised me was the unpredictability of retail. From one day to the next, from one year to the next, you never know what to expect! You can certainly work to put yourself in a good position, but there is nothing certain about anything. It’s definitely exciting though!
Family: Is it challenging to balance entrepreneurship and family, or do they pair well?
SM: Having a supportive partner is key. Starting something is demanding: it’s going to take a lot of your time, it’s going to be stressful. Luckily for me I had a very helpful & understanding wife! I’ve also just become a father not too long ago. It can sometimes be a challenge, but I make it a priority to spend as much time with my son as possible.
You’ve got such a great product mix, how do you decide what to carry?
SM: I first try to look at the history behind the brand/product. That’s a very important factor to us, not only do we have to believe in the products we sell, but we want to get a better understanding of what and who is behind each brand. I then make sure it fits with the product mix we already have in store, our overall product offering is just as important as the individual products we carry.
What are some of your favourite stores or operations out there?
SM: A lot of our brands have great retail operations, from YMC, to Nepenthes, to Loreak Mendian, to La Paz, to 18 Waits. There are also a ton of great shops & restaurants in the Mile End we adore, Lawrence, Lowell, Boutique Archive, Wilensky’s, Kem Coba, Drogheria Fine, to name a few…
Retail is changing all the time, what would be your advice to someone who was thinking about opening a retail store from the beginning?
SM: It has to be something you are passionate about, something you enjoy doing. This “store” will become a part of your life, so you have to be doing it for the right reasons or you won’t last long. Do your homework, put in the work, and be prepared to roll with the punches.