Shutting its doors for good
By Emma Weller
After nearly 26 years as Bank Street’s “counter-cultural variety store,” the legalization of marijuana has driven down Foster’s sales enough to push him into retirement.
The ’70s-style store sells cannabis paraphernalia, vintage records, comic books and miscellaneous items. Foster has also been an activist with a passion for moving the community forward on cannabis legalization and freedom of choice.
“I figure you can make a living and a difference at the same time,” said Foster.
Once cannabis was legalized by the government in late 2018, Foster realized that what he had fought for decades would become a major reason for shutting down his own operation.
“The sales aren’t what they used to be,” he said. “I don’t begrudge legalization – pot had to be legalized – but as soon as all the pot stores opened, that side of our business disappeared.”
Prior to legalization, Foster said he followed all the rules and regulations on what could be sold and, in the end, when he was given the option to sell cannabis, he opted out and continued the store as it was.
The majority of sales in recent years has come from the pop industry rather than the pot industry, which previously dominated.
With the lack of business, there is only one full-time and one part-time employee. Foster’s hope was for his full-time employee to take over the business, but it is not sustainable in the current market.
“I probably would have taken a different approach to it because there used to be a lot of mom-and-pop industries in the cannabis trade, but they kind of got snowballed out of existence,” said Foster about the decision to legalize cannabis in Canada.
“A lot of the people who jumped into the cannabis market weren’t cannabis people, they were just business people, and there are massive crop failures on a huge scale because a lot didn’t know what they were doing.”
Foster started with three flea market booths in the 1990s – Colonnade, Bentley Road and Stittsville. During this time, he stayed home to take care of and spend more time with his daughter. Rather than returning to his position as a public servant, he rented a small shop on Richmond Road, paying $600 a month for five years to try to build on his success in the flea markets. He opened the Bank Street store in 1997.
“You definitely have core customers, but they change over the years,” said Foster. With Carleton University and the University of Ottawa nearby, there were large turnovers annually as graduating students left in the spring and new students arrived in the fall. But that side of the business has business has also dwindled.
At 68, Foster said he is finally ready to retire. He plans to spend more time volunteering at a local animal sanctuary, continuing to embrace community work and development.
“I hope people have good memories of the place and remember us fondly.”
According to a recent Ottawa Citizen article, there are 66 cannabis dispensaries in Ottawa, with several located in the Glebe. The stores tend to be located near one another, competing for the same clients which reduces sales, drives down prices and forces some stores to shut down. A sign on the door of High Ties Cannabis at 769 Bank Street reads, “High Ties will be relocating. Certain nearby competitors have come in and oversaturated the market” – the store lasted only eight months. The Glebe’s Plateau cannabis shop further down Bank Street has also recently shut down, leaving only their Little Italy branch.
And it’s not just the Glebe. Foster said that where he lives in the west end, there is a cannabis shop in every direction – one even took over a Tim Hortons to create a cannabis drive-thru.
Emma Weller is a third-year journalism student at Carleton University.