Areas of Opportunity

You can open downtown and have business come to you; but these entrepreneurs decided to open in the suburbs, and let their businesses come to the people.

Photography Paul Swanson

Sohail “Zee” Zaidi was met with words of caution when he moved ahead with plans to open a location of his Remedy Caf – an Edmonton institution – in the southwest suburban neighbourhood of Terwillegar.

“My construction guy told me, ‘Zee, think twice. People go out of Terwillegar, they don’t come in,'” Zaidi recalls. “I said, ‘But people live there.'”

Zaidi, who opened the first Remedy Caf on the busy, university-adjacent 109th Street in 2001, was himself one of those Terwillegar residents. He often watched his neighbours walk long distances along busy streets until they reached the nearest chain coffee shop on 23rd Avenue, and saw an opportunity.

“I saw that people were walking there and I go, ‘We should open in Terwillegar.'”

Opened in 2016, Zaidi says Remedy’s first – and for now, only – suburban location has been a great success. Parking spots outside the caf on Towne Centre Boulevard are often empty even when it’s busy inside, telling Zaidi many of his customers are walking over. It’s become the walkable neighbourhood gathering place he hoped it would be. The Terwillegar location stays open, like the others, until 11:30 p.m. and he says customers are there right until close.

“It’s beautiful,” he says. “It’s what I always wanted it to be. It’s easy for the moms, the people who can’t drive, the kids – there are happy things happening there.”

While central Edmonton is often viewed as the place for local businesses to be because of its neighbourhood-destination status, it’s far from the only place to thrive. Zaidi has four locations in the core – in addition to 109th Street, there are the busy areas of Whyte Avenue, Jasper Avenue, and 124th Street – but being in the suburbs was an obvious next step. Because the clientele is different from the office-worker and student crowds of his central locations, the busy periods and lulls come at different times of the day. For example, the Terwillegar shop is usually slow around 3:30 p.m. when parents are fetching kids from school. But, like all its locations (minus Southgate Centre), it’s open until midnight providing a unique late night spot for takeout, meals, dessert and drinks of all types – from chai to beer – in the area.

Suburbs and families go hand-in-hand, but about a kilometre from Remedy, also in Terwillegar, a casual fine-dining restaurant is beating back the stereotype. XIX Nineteen increasingly attracts young professionals, says general manager Arielle Knecht.

“We’re trying to cater to the people who live in the suburbs and don’t want to go downtown on a Tuesday night to get a drink,” says Knecht.

XIX Nineteen was one of the first restaurants in the area when it opened five years ago to serve “a different demographic that doesn’t get the attention they need out in the suburbs,” says Knecht. Since taking over as manager, she’s noticed the restaurant has started to lure more people in their late 20s and early 30s, making for a lively atmosphere.

Knecht believes the suburbs are underrated as places to do business, and feels if a few more restaurants were to open in the area, they could do a “brisk business” and add to the neighbourhood vibe.

Zaidi also sees the potential. He’s scouting for other suburban locations for Remedy, in north Edmonton, Sherwood Park and St. Albert – he says he gets frequent requests from St. Albert residents to open a caf there.

“Businesses might shy away from suburbs because they consider it more of a risk,” Zaidi says.

“In business, you always take a chance. It’s worked out so well for me.”

Andrew Phelps

Business in the suburbs has also worked out well for Andrew Phelps, owner of Cranky’s Bike Shop in St. Albert. Phelps and his wife Angela opened the bicycle store in 2001, choosing the community firstly because Phelps grew up there. At the time, says Phelps, Whyte Avenue was Edmonton’s hotspot for bike shops and was already saturated, so they opted to open in St. Albert’s downtown.

“It’s a higher income area, a family community, and the fact that it’s a smaller community makes it a little bit easier to market to. At the time, it was an underserved market,” says Phelps. “The retail environment in St. Albert is richer than it has ever been. Just given how many people live in the city, we could definitely have a more vibrant retail market here.”

Interestingly, most of Phelps’s customers are St. Albert residents, as few Edmontonians seem to be willing to venture to the bedroom community to the northwest.

“It’s one of the challenges of being in the suburbs. Most people who live in St. Albert drive into Edmonton to work, so they’re pretty amenable to driving into Edmonton to shop.”

But the reverse isn’t true, says Phelps. “Even people from the north end of Edmonton can be a little averse to driving into St. Albert, even though we’re actually the closest bike shop to them. There’s an invisible barrier that it’s a different city.”

Phelps admits he hasn’t ruled out opening a location of his store in Edmonton – but it would be a second store, not a move.

“I feel like we’re part of the community,” says Phelps, who has 13 employees. “I wouldn’t want to abandon ship to go into Edmonton.”

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