An impressive collection of local stories: 30 Days of Edmonton

For the last month, I’ve been following along as Amanda Dunlop has profiled one local business each day on her blog. She called it 30 Days of Edmonton, and it is an impressive collection of local stories. Each entry contains a brief interview with the business owner and some wonderful photos, which is no surprise given that Amanda is the primary photographer behind Lightside Photography. I liked the series so much that I asked Amanda for an interview (over coffee at Credo, which she profiled on day 15).

Amanda Dunlop

Born and raised in Edmonton, Amanda’s story is similar to many others – it took leaving to see other parts of the world to truly appreciate what we have here in Edmonton. And as she learned more about the city, her appreciation grew. Amanda worked in the Edmonton Journal’s ad department for a time, but it wasn’t her passion. She has been a photographer for more than five years, and just last fall took the plunge and made it her full-time gig.

I asked Amanda where the idea for the blog series came from, and she said it all started with a conversation. Her friend and fellow photographer Matt Ramage was setting up his business in Saskatoon, and the two discussed ways for a new business to get noticed. The idea of photographing local businesses grew from there, and Amanda ran with it (Matt may do a Saskatoon version still). She realized that the series could be a “fun and casual” way to spread the word about local establishments, and to share why she chooses to shop local.

Though she started with a “cheat sheet” of canned questions, Amanda told me they quickly evolved as she realized that some worked and some didn’t, depending on the business. She had been to most of the places she profiled at least once before, but there were some new ones, and she always made a point of asking the business owners she talked to for their favorite places. Good thing too – Amanda started with just three businesses lined up!

Amanda had three questions that I was always eager to see the responses to. Here are a few examples.

Did you grow up in Edmonton, or are you a transplant? If so, what brought you here? What keeps you here?

I never had any intentions of staying…I don’t think most people who grow up here do. I was thinking of moving to Toronto and then this opportunity came up where I was working here and was able to purchase the business from the current owner. So I went for it and I’ve really grown to appreciate Edmonton a lot more. Traveling to other cities has also made me appreciate what Edmonton has.
– Jessica, Nokomis Clothing, Day 2

I consider Edmonton my home and we just wanted to come home. It’s got some pros and cons. It’s quiet and less pretentious than a lot of cities, yet the people are good and they tend to be a little more adventuresome and quite trendy. On the other hand it’s a little hard to get some nicer things here like fresh seafood and fresh produce, etc.
– Dennis, Chocolate Exquisite, Day 11

This street is Edmonton’s idea of what downtown revitalization should look like. The people are just so supportive as well and when people start talking you really see it in the amount of business that comes in.

– Geoff, Credo Coffee, Day 15

Why is it that people are so hesitant about shopping local? Why do you think Edmonton is so “Big Box” in general?

I think Canadians are sometimes unsure of who they are and they’re not as proud of local product as much as say someone from Italy. A lot of people just don’t know what amazing quality we have right here.
– Karen, C’est Sera, Day 12

I think it’s harder and it’s an unknown. When you walk into a mall all of the stores look pretty much the same. When you walk into a local independent you never know what it’s going to be like. I think it can be a little scary. So that can be a negative thing if you want the same thing all the time, but if you want variety small independents are what you want.
– Jessie, The Blue Pear, Day 14

The city has become a mall and big box dependent culture, partly due to the near collapse of downtown. It seems that once you’ve lost your downtown, you may have lost your city. Edmonton is also a car oriented city. Because of this people tend to not shop in their local communities. Independent shops are often an overlooked part of what makes a unique community.
– James, Stylus, Day 24

If you could see one thing change here what would it be?

What my husband and I have been trying to do is to go to a butcher and get our meat, and then go to a baker and get our bread, and so on. I’d just like to see a section of the city created where you can do that with a little more ease. I guess I would like to see it become a little more European and walkable.
– Rychelle, Red Ribbon, Day 9

I guess I am seeing the change with what has been happening downtown. We’re becoming more community oriented and less big box and you don’t have to drive as much. I guess I’d just like to see us move a little further towards what we see in Europe. I think people want to feel involved in their community and that’s what we need.
– Chad, deVine Wine and Spirits, Day 13

I’d like to see people complain less…it’s one thing that drives me crazy here. I would consider Edmonton in general to have one of the best standards of living in the country. It’s just unfortunate that many of the people who live here seem to be so unhappy with it. There’s just a disproportionate amount of people that just seem to be looking for something to complain about even when this is a really great city.
– Jay, Happy Harbor Comics, Day 20

Not every business answered every question, but I still think it’s fascinating that so many different small business owners in Edmonton had such similar answers to those three important questions. Most felt that Edmonton doesn’t get the credit it deserves, that shopping local is often overlooked even though it really makes communities unique, and quite a few cited transportation and becoming “more European” as key things they’d like to see change. I also really loved Jake’s answer on Day 6 about what he’d like to see change:

The drab colours…imagine if no one here was allowed to paint their house white or brown. Things would be so much more colourful here in the winter.

That’s an idea I could get behind! The “smartie pack” houses (as we called them) in Inuvik were unique and anything but boring.

I asked Amanda if there were any businesses she would have liked to have profiled but didn’t, and she said “definitely”. She quickly realized there were far more businesses than one could cover in just 30 days! Amanda said she wished she had been able to do a few more “boy stores” like pubs or a maybe even a paintball place.

Amanda Dunlop

Amanda told me she has “a newfound respect for reporters and writers” – she discovered the series was much more time consuming to produce than she had originally anticipated! She estimates she spent two to three hours on every post, and that was on top of her regular obligations, of course. It was rewarding however, and she’d like to continue it – but less intensively, perhaps one or two profiles per month.

I had a great conversation with Amanda, and was happy that the passion for local she shared on the blog came through in person too. She was wearing a top designed by Edmonton’s own Fridget Apparel, and admitted she was “devastated” by the news that Nokomis was closing. “If I was having a bad week I’d go to Nokomis and buy a dress,” she told me. Amanda’s other local favorites include Blue Plate Diner (which she profiled on day 27), and Red Ribbon (which she profiled on day 9). “We need the dynamic that local business brings to the community.”

The final entry in the series will be posted tomorrow. I encourage you to read through all of the profiles.

Well done Amanda, and thanks for the chat!