30 years of The Black Mar­ket

Down­town’s beloved im­port bou­tique cel­e­brates 30 years of bring­ing gems from around the world into the homes of Haligo­ni­ans.

The Coast - - FRONT PAGE - BY ASH­LEY COR­BETT

The Black Mar­ket Bou­tique Turns 30 1545 Grafton Street Satur­day, Novem­ber 10 10am-8pm

The Black Mar­ket Bou­tique claims its own cor­ner of the city boldly. The rain­bow paint out­side the Grafton Street shop can be seen from afar, draw­ing cu­ri­ous eyes to its doorstep. In­side, the bou­tique over­flows with jew­ellery, in­cense, home decor and funky cloth­ing sourced from around the world. It’s a down­town icon for shop­pers of all ages: from teenagers want­ing cheap thrills to adults in­vest­ing in unique gems for their home.

The shop opened its colour­ful doors 30 years ago when avid ex­plor­ers Dawn and Do­minique Viller­met de­cided to put down some roots in Hal­i­fax. Orig­i­nally, the two met trav­el­ling and would buy things to sell in their next des­ti­na­tion. They kept up this life­style for about three years, un­til they re­lo­cated to Canada and started street vend­ing. Slowly, their worldly busi­ness ven­ture mor­phed into what is now The Black Mar­ket.

Wiebke Kungl and Lau­ren Par­sons, strangers to each other at the time, started work­ing at the bou­tique in 2002. This year, the long­time man­agers of the shop be­came part-own­ers of the busi­ness.The two say they have been work­ing to­wards this po­si­tion for a very long time, start­ing by go­ing on “buy­ing trips” early on. Each year, the own­ers of the bou­tique travel to In­dia, Nepal, In­done­sia and Thai­land in search of au­then­tic items. Oc­ca­sion­ally, they visit Ecuador and Peru.

“It’s a trea­sure hunt, ba­si­cally,” says Kungl, de­scrib­ing what it’s like to sift through a crammed mar­ket in Bangkok.

The own­ers’ re­la­tion­ship with the sell­ers they buy from varies coun­try to coun­try. In In­dia for ex­am­ple, they have been do­ing busi­ness with the same peo­ple since The Black Mar­ket opened. When the own­ers visit Push- kar their friend­ships are so es­tab­lished that they con­sis­tently get in­vited for chai, din­ner and even to wed­dings. To­day, the Viller­mets ex­e­cute trips to Bali, In­done­sia, while Kungl and Par­sons have the rest cov­ered.

“We do pretty much ev­ery­thing now…the buy­ing, the run­ning of the shops,” says Par­sons. The two are grate­ful that the shop’s orig­i­nal own­ers have “worked very hard to come up with a cre­ative way for younger peo­ple to buy a very es­tab­lished busi­ness,” says Kungl.

Though the shop re­mains a con­stant in Hal­i­fax, it has def­i­nitely evolved. A Black Mar­ket in Ch­ester, Par­sons’ home­town, de­buted in 2014. The shop also be­gan ship­ping across Canada this year. Kungl and Par­sons say that even the prod­ucts they bring in have al­tered re­cently.

“Since we’ve been with the store…it’s changed a lot,” says Par­sons. “As we get older too, our tastes change. So we’re watch­ing what we want to bring in be a lit­tle more ex­pen­sive, a lit­tle higher qual­ity.”

Kungl agrees: “We’re get­ting away from fast fash­ion and a lit­tle bit more into hand­made,” she says.

Even so, the orig­i­nal val­ues of The Black Mar­ket re­main the same. Par­sons says the Viller­mets are a lit­tle hard to live up to, since they al­ways go “the full mile.” But it’s pretty clear that the found­ing prin­ci­ples of the shop, like eth­i­cally sourced prod­ucts, treat­ing peo­ple fairly and giv­ing back to the com­mu­ni­ties they buy from, haven’t wa­vered un­der their watch.

This Satur­day the store cel­e­brates its three decades in busi­ness by giv­ing back to its reg­u­lar shop­pers with an all-day 30 per­cent off sale.

“It is kind of crazy to step back and think about it, be­cause you know what,” says Par­sons of the an­niver­sary, “it’s hard to be a suc­cess­ful busi­ness and be able to change and grow and stay rel­e­vant into the 30th year.”

ASH­LEY COR­BETT

Part-own­ers Wiebke Kungl and Lau­ren Par­sons started with The Black Mar­ket in 2002.

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