“You’ve waited long enough, am I right!?” reads one of the signs on the door of Organic Garage’s newest store, in Toronto’s Liberty Village neighbourhood.
Turns out, the gathering of supplier partners, store designers, representatives from the Liberty Village BIA and a handful of customers will have to wait just a little longer for CEO Matt Lurie. He’s running a bit late for the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the company’s fourth store, which follows stores in Oakville, Vaughan and the city’s Junction neighbourhood.
“He slept in the back; we had to wake him,” director of marketing Randee Glassman jokingly informs the crowd as Lurie emerges, and poses for a series of pictures before making a brief speech and declaring the store open.
Occupying approximately 13,000 square feet of a handsome heritage building that once housed billiard table manufacturer Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company, the newest store is part of an ambitious Toronto-focused growth strategy for Organic Garage. Launched by Lurie alongside his mother Neena and sister Shawna in 2006, the company is targeting eight to 10 downtown stores within the next three to five years.
A fifth store is set to open in the city’s Leaside neighbourhood in late 2019, while the company’s real estate team has also secured a sixth location–Lurie won’t say where–in the heart of the city. “We want to get from the west [the Junction store, which opened in 2017] to the east and from Lakeshore Boulevard up to Eglinton Ave.,” Lurie tells Canadian Grocer. “We’re on our way.”
Liberty Village was a desirable location because of its high population density (6,930 people per square kilometre, according to city data) says Lurie. The neighbourhood’s demographics were also attractive, with 73% of the population between the ages of 25 to 54 and 20% of households reporting after-tax income of $80,000 or more.
The new store bears many of the whimsical hallmarks of its sister stores, including a hopscotch board painted on the floor in the produce department; touchscreen “Rose” units (named after Lurie’s paternal grandmother) that enable people to access everything from “Matt’s mom’s recipes,” to the company’s history; and pillars emblazoned with some of Lurie’s favourite quotes (eg: “Walls were built not to keep me out but to teach me how to climb”).
There is also an 11-tap draft station housing kombucha, cold-brewed coffee and other specialty beverages, as well as an Express Brew coffee kiosk and self-serve teaBOT kiosk. Lurie describes it as “an A-Z shop,” housing 8,000 to 10,000 SKUs, highlighted by a 100% certified organic produce department.
The new store is also home to three independent businesses who are the inaugural participants in the company’s new Hand-Picked Partner Program, which Lurie established to help give small independent businesses a retail footprint. Each business–sustainable sushi take-out bar Cali-Rolls; fresh juice bar Thrive Energy Lab, and kefir bar deKEFIR–is housed within a 50 to 60-sq.-ft. kiosk.
“They drive traffic to the store from people looking for those things and we benefit, and they benefit from the traffic we drive,” says Lurie. “Plus, they wouldn’t be able to find space in Liberty Village.”
The new store is located just steps away from a Metro store, while a Longo’s is expected to open on nearby King St. W. before the end of the year. Lurie appears outwardly unconcerned by the competition. “We don’t care about the incumbents,” he says bluntly. “Our concept is so dynamic and compelling, that it’s hard not to love.
“[Our store] just fits into Liberty Village so well,” he adds. “These other stores are parachuted in straight from suburbia. People rally around stores that fit their community, and our stores do that so well.”