Two Years In Hamilton: A Love Story
This past weekend was a special one for me as it marked the two-year anniversary since I moved back to Hamilton. I must admit, it feels like it’s been much longer than that and this city feels so much like my home that I can’t imagine living anywhere else! Here’s my story of what I’ve experienced in the past two years, why it was the best decision I could have made and what I’ve learned (with some of my favourite photos of the shop, Hamilton and people I've met).
In the late summer and fall of 2012 I had been living in Toronto for six years and had quite a nice life there. All my best friends were there, I had various companies and people I was collaborating with and freelancing for, and was living by myself for the first time in the perfect apartment in the Distillery district. My plans of opening my own shop had gotten more serious that past year or so and along with my Bachelor of Design from Ryerson’s Fashion Communication program I had also completed some small business courses at George Brown. My ideas and thoughts were starting to take shape and I was gearing up to put them into motion. The only thing was that when I thought about opening up in Toronto, it just didn’t seem right. For most people this is because of the higher rents and overwhelming nature of a bigger city. That was part of my reasoning but it was also that the vision I had for the store didn’t match where I was living. Growing up, I lived in a small town and my dad ran a bookshop, where he knew all of his customers.
I always imagined my own business following this same model- forming personal relationships with my customers and being a part of the community. Though I grew up in the outskirts of Hamilton, I traveled there every day for school from the ages 5 to 16. Most of my thoughts of the City were formed by my dad who had always been heavily involved in the community there. My parents met at McMaster and I’ll always remember my dad telling me the happiest days of his life were when the two of them were newly married and would bike to Mac together every day. But in terms of more recent opinions of the City, I didn’t have many, except that I kept hearing how much it was changing and improving.
The biggest factor for my decision to move to Hamilton was the fact that I felt I needed a dramatic change in my life in order to fully focus on my business and put everything into it. Hamilton’s art and design scene was well-known, it was far enough from Toronto but still close enough, and it was where I had family and historical roots. At the time, I was in a relationship, and my partner and I decided to move to Hamilton together to make the transition easier, which was another exciting part of the move! The first few months were hard on me and I was worried I’d made the wrong decision. I kept wondering why I would leave Toronto, where I had such a network and so many connections in the fashion and design world, for a place where I knew close to no one. On top of that, my relationship started coming apart at the seams as we were realizing we wanted different things. All in all, I felt pretty lonely and naïve to think that I could just start up in Hamilton without any connections.
But then things started changing. I started meeting with Rob Belchior at the Small Business Enterprise Centre located at City Hall and he really inspired me to just go for it. I stopped pitying myself and set out to make as many connections as possible and get my dream started. And this is when I learned my favourite thing about Hamilton: everyone I met was so friendly, welcoming, supportive and wanted the best for the city. I remember having a moment of revelation about four months after I moved where I was just driving through the City and looking around I realized just how much I loved it, my insides were all warm and gooey and everything just felt right, for the first time in a while.
Shortly after, my relationship ended and I was positive that this was the end of my life as I knew it. I had been putting more energy in envisioning my life with this person than focusing on what I wanted to accomplish for myself. It all happened with the craziest timing; the day I found my store location is the day I also suffered my first broken heart. The next two weeks I cried the most I think I ever have, while managing to direct my hired contractor on all the renovations that needed to be done. It was such a crazy up-and-down part of my life, but in a weird way, I can’t imagine it any other way. I always say that the pain I went through was so necessary because it allowed me to put all that negative energy into something positive and build something beautiful out of it. And in a hilarious way, it was like I had moved from one serious relationship to the next; my store was now my best friend, my boyfriend, and my baby. It’s cheesy to say, but it’s so true. I’ve always been a believer in everything happening for a reason, and the six months before I opened the store was proof of some higher power telling me everything was going to be ok.
Fast-forward to now, I’ve been living in this beautiful city for two years, the store has been opened for a year and a half, and I couldn’t be happier. It’s, in fact, hard to believe it’s only been a couple of years based on how completely content and comfortable I feel here, all the wonderful friends and customers I’ve met and how passionate I am about Hamilton. It’s very fulfilling to be doing something that I love all parts of-and to be building something that is such a reflection of myself. I really feel like I’ve put my heart and soul into Girl on the Wing and I can’t tell you how rewarding it feels to have such an amazing customer base and support system around me. I’ve learned from everything I’ve done and have been so lucky to meet countless amazing and inspirational people while doing it.
I got the idea for this little blog post/diary entry last Monday, the night of the Municipal election. This was the first election I’d taken part in since moving here and it was one that I was very excited about. There were two candidates I felt really personally invested in and excited about that had amazing ideas for the future of Hamilton. I tried to get involved and help spread the word on these candidates and open up the discussion of voting to my friends, customers and acquaintances. Come election night, I was feeling so emotional. I think because it helped me realize just how much I do love this City. Though some results were favourable, and some weren’t, I was very humbled by the amazing people surrounding me who feel the same way about Hamilton.
I’m floored by the generosity and civic engagement of so many people I’ve met here and it just goes to show there is so much in store for Hamilton’s future. At the end of the night, two of my closest friends and I went for a long drive around all parts of the City- the beautiful historic streets of Dundas, the vast fields of rural Flamborough, and the vibrant city streets of downtown. We all felt warm and giddy about our love for the city- and it’s a love that keeps growing every day.
After two years, I’m happy to say Hamilton is and will forever be my home. Thank you to everyone I’ve met who has been a part of my store life, personal life or community life. I love you all!