Transforming a Grocery Store into a Design Hub
Since the Loblaws chain closed in Quebec in 2015, Quebecers noticed some empty outlets of the once prominent grocery store. For instance, in Cowansville, Quebec, the former Loblaws grocery store was vacant for three years, from 2016 to 2019. To some residents of the area, it may have seemed destined to remain that way, until serendipity arrived in the form of a lighting designer looking for manufacturing space.
Maude Rondeau, designer and founder of Luminaire Authentik, was seeking a new manufacturing space for her lighting business, which specializes in tailor-made light fixtures for residential and commercial projects. The company has three showrooms: one in Toronto, one in Montreal and the most recent, which opened in January 2023, in Quebec City.
Rondeau had outgrown her prior manufacturing facility in West Brome and wanted to establish a presence in her adoptive region of the Eastern Townships in southeastern Quebec. According to Rondeau, the area has several appealing characteristics. It is easily accessible from Montreal and includes many cities including Sutton, Lac-Brome, Knowlton and Bromont, among other locales. It also has a relatively large manufacturing-oriented workforce. “For me, it was a strategic [geographic] location,” Rondeau said.
When Rondeau stumbled upon the vacant Loblaws location, she immediately saw the potential in converting the property to her needs. The only problem: Rondeau’s manufacturing requirement was only 16,000 square (1,486 square meters), and the total building measured approximately 55,000 square feet (5,110 square meters).
But where some operators may have seen a challenge, Rondeau saw a possibility. To fill the remaining 39,000 square feet (3623 square meters), she decided to create a space dedicated to design and to involve other local businesses. “It was too big for our own business needs, so I had to be creative and think of ways to fill it, to liven it up and to justify the purchase of the building.” Thus, LA-telier Destination Design was born.
Securing the Property
The purchase of such a large property was feasible, at least in part, due to its rural location. “It’s more affordable, as real estate is much cheaper than in the city,” said Rondeau. According to the 2021 Annual Information form, in a public report by Choice Properties, the building sold for 1,475,000 Canadian dollars ($US1,109,901) excluding selling costs.
But even though the site had been vacant for some time, Rondeau initially had trouble getting traction with Choice Properties. The latter is the real estate investment trust affiliated with Loblaw Companies Limited, a Canadian distribution company that owns brands and stores such as Maxi, T&T Supermarkets and President’s Choice, which eliminated the Loblaws chain in Quebec in 2015.
“It wasn’t easy to get a call back because it’s a big machine,” Rondeau said. “They have a lot of empty buildings.” Thanks to a lucky break, Rondeau and her partner and husband Christian Foisy were able to purchase the building.
Foisy, who now serves as the property manager of LA-telier Destination Design, was talking with a business associate about his futile attempts to contact someone at Choice Properties and discovered that this associate’s brother-in-law worked at the company. “We called and we were able to talk to the right person,” Rondeau said, adding “it was written in the stars that it was for me.”
Removing Grocery Store Markers
When Rondeau entered the space, it was empty, but some branding elements from the grocery store were still there, such as the sliding doors in the entrance. Rondeau and Foisy removed everything, including the terracotta-coloured ceramic on the floor, and used white paint throughout.
“We wanted to create a more modern canvas and to remove the wall coverings of fruit as well as the yellow ceilings,” Rondeau said. Window displays that overlook the Luminaire Authentik manufacturing plant were added “to highlight the handmade and artisanal aspects,” of her brand.
Partitions were built inside the space for offices and workshops so they could be leased by other local businesses. These areas were further divided into sections to create individual suites. About 100 people currently work at LA-telier Destination Design, and, as of today, the building is fully occupied.
Apart from Luminaire Authentik, three other tenants have their offices and workshops at the property: Noble Élément, a construction company that specializes in roofing framework; BR Électrique, a firm of electricians; and Concept VPS, an industrial engineering organization. Those three businesses signed leases that ranged between five and 10 years, depending on their needs.
A Design-Focused One-Stop Shop
Even after securing the office and workshop tenants, Rondeau still had approximately 8,000 square feet (743 square meters) of vacant space, which she wanted to be public facing. It includes a boutique, a showroom, a coffeeshop and a coworking space.
In this space there are showrooms for Luminaire Authentik; Ramacieri Soligo, a high-end ceramic and plumbing company; and Fjord Intérieurs, a design studio specializing in the design of kitchens, bathrooms and integrated furniture. Additionally, there are other home-related objects and furniture to purchase by Quebecois designers such as Appareil Atelier.
The three businesses in the showroom also have materials libraries with samples so clients can personalize their projects. “The materials library of every business is configured so that clients can come finalize their choice of materials, colours and finishes,” Rondeau explained. “Every business is there to support the clients and to advise them.”
The public space was further enhanced by adding a café and a coworking space that is open to everyone, with about 30 seats. “I found it interesting to add a coworking space to bring in more foot traffic and to liven up this gorgeous space,” Rondeau said. To enhance natural light in this section of the property, Rondeau kept the glass facade from the former grocery store.
The idea surfaced because Rondeau did not have a place to go to get a coffee and sit down for a few hours. “I’m from Montreal, and when I moved to the Eastern Townships, I missed going to spaces to sit down and work,” Rondeau said. “I thought it was relevant, and it also creates another business,” that adds vibrancy to the design center.
At the Centre of the Eastern Townships
Rondeau and Foisy took possession of the former grocery store in September 2019, but the pandemic delayed the opening of LA-telier Destination Design to the public, which officially occurred on October 13, 2022.
Rondeau noted that foot traffic is increasing from the urban exodus prompted by the pandemic. “Due to work from home policies, cabins became homes,” Rondeau said. “There is a large clientele of young, growing families that are settling into the region to include nature and well-being into their daily lives.”
Since its opening, the space has been recognized for its design. LA-telier Destination Design won two prizes at the fifteenth annual Grands Prix du design: the Gold certification for renovation (before and after) and the Gold certification in the store and showroom category.