The street is akin to the eye of a hurricane – at least as I understand it, having never been in a hurricane, eye or otherwise.
Reportedly, when a hurricane makes land, the eye is eerily calm, sometimes prompting people to come out from shelter, assuming the worst is over. However, all around the eye, the storm continues to rage and damage everything in its path.
Tiny Covent Market Place in downtown London is a little bit like that. All around it, the business of downtown goes on every day: Crowds flock to Budweiser Gardens, shoppers wander through Covent Garden Market and people come and go to offices, restaurants and bars.
Yet many people miss this little street, a 200-metre elbow that wraps around the north end of Covent Garden Market connecting King and Talbot streets. There hasn’t always been much to see there. In fact, if you look at Google’s Street View of the north section of the street, last updated five years ago, it’s rather bleak.
Today, however, that section of road has been revived, with the arrival of Hotel Metro, the restaurant Blu Duby (originally Braise) and the Market Lane walk-through to Dundas Street.
Two years ago Izabela Maloney arrived on the street and opened Bela Booteek, a women’s clothing and shoe store, modeled after two successful stores she operates in Aylmer of all places. Ask most people in London about Aylmer – 40 minutes southeast of here – and the first comment is likely to be about the Ontario Police College just outside town. There might be some vague notion the area is home to a large concentration of Mennonites and Amish, but that’s about it.
No one thinks of Aylmer and fashion, but Maloney, a 43-year-old dynamo who came to Canada from Poland 13 years ago, has made her two Bela Booteek locations in Aylmer a destination shopping experience for women across Southwestern Ontario.
Two years ago, she expanded to London and opened on Covent Market Lane. You can read all about her in this month’s Business London magazine.
It took me a couple of weeks to track her down for an interview. She was willing but very busy. Evidently, she wears out the pavement between London and Aylmer, going back and forth to her stores every week. We eventually met at the Covent Market store, where I walked in to find four friendly staff members and an even more friendly Bichon Frise dog named Coco.
The store has been successful, but can’t touch the volume of its Aylmer counterpart. After two years, it’s fair to say most women in London have never noticed the store, sitting as it does in the eye of the downtown hurricane.
That might change in the coming months because in April, Maloney opened a second location in the former Ross Mayer store on Richmond Row, giving her about 100x more visibility. It’s a smaller store, but it most certainly will introduce the name Bela Booteek to more shoppers, many of whom will be shocked to discover there is a larger version of the store across from Covent Garden Market.
Sometime in the next year or so, she would like to buy a building and consolidate her two London outlets into one, large and fabulous store. It will take some doing. She’s not going to move into a strip mall, just to find the space she needs.
As you will understand if you read this month’s BL cover story, Maloney achieves the goals she sets for herself. So look for an amalgamated Bela Booteek somewhere downtown in the not too distant future. And if you’re ever in Aylmer…