Taking the Leap at Vacancy Hall
photography by Kevan Morin
Go down the stairs and into the belly of the Mercer Warehouse. That’s where you’ll find Vacancy Hall. Broken down into eight garage-like bays, the basement of the large brick building houses several small retail businesses. Visitors who wander downstairs can peruse the curiosities and goods in a raw, industrial setting with concrete floors and walls covered in intricate spray-paint designs.
Devin Pope, the property manager who oversees the day-to-day operation of Mercer Warehouse, including Vacancy Hall, explains its allure: “This space and the bays, they play off the idea of sea-can design. This isn’t a new concept, but it’s new for Edmonton.” Sea-can design refers to a growing trend where shipping containers are repurposed to become usable spaces.
The experience at Vacancy Hall allows visitors to discover artifact-based sculptures and lighting, trendy kids’ clothing, vintage art and jewellery, mosaic-style Lego portraits, designer fashions and more.
Kyle Closen, who sells handmade leather goods and accessories out of Vacancy Hall, is one of the seven vendors in the space currently taking the leap into the world of retail. “Vacancy Hall is a good testing ground for us because it’s a really affordable space,” Closen says. He adds: “It’s great to come together in a community with other like-minded artists.”
Though Vacancy Hall is part of the popular Mercer Warehouse building, its existence isn’t yet common knowledge. Closen admits that the vendors were all working on different schedules and, therefore, shoppers were sometimes only able to visit a few of the retailers at a time. Together, Closen and Pope worked to rally the business owners into a more predictable set of hours – 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Friday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays, with optional Sunday hours as well – and are concentrating on spreading the word about their unique space through social media. They’ve also decided to rent out the common area between the bays for events as another way to let people know the retail area exists.
Another vendor in Vacancy Hall, Chad Baba – a sculptor who repurposes discarded items into artful lighting and furniture pieces – agrees that business is sometimes slow; however, he adds that things are definitely starting to pick up as the shop owners have become something of a community, collectively working toward creating a unique shopping experience, especially for those younger shoppers living downtown. “This place is really a hidden gem,” says Baba.