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SYDNEY, N.S. — A pair of Charlotte Street businesses have announced plans to close their Sydney storefronts this month.

On Jan. 6, Port City Grocery co-owners Kat Gouthro-Burke and Devon Burke released a statement via its Facebook account. They announced Port City would close its doors later in January, an announcement they said was unexpected for them.

Two days later, Lillian Company made a similar announcement via social media that it would soon close. A later post stated the physical store would open every Friday and Saturday for the rest of the month — the last day being Jan. 27. 

Lillian Company, which makes clothing, candles and other decorative items, said it plans to continue making items for online sale or in other stores.

Lillian Company owner Faith Johnston Gray and husband Rob Gray accept a Cape Breton Regional Chamber of Commerce award in 2022 for “favourite place to shop.” The store will close its physical storefront on Charlotte Street on Jan. 27. Johnston Gray said the birth of her daughter has led her to shift plans for the business, which will remain open online. CONTRIBUTED/FAITH JOHNSTON GRAY – CONTRIBUTED/FAITH JOHNSTON GRAY

Shifting focus to online

In the store’s online statement, owner Faith Johnston Gray said the closure wasn’t a result of a lack of support. 

“Rest assured, our brand ‘Lillian Company’ remains firmly in place. Soon, you’ll spot our products in stores across and beyond the island!” it said.

Johnston Gray told the Post the birth of her daughter nine months ago was a major reason behind the physical store’s closure, adding motherhood and the responsibilities coming with the store felt like two full-time jobs.

“When I’m home I feel guilty for not being at the store. When I’m at the store, I feel guilty for not being home. With that, we knew it was time for a change and are excited for the future,” she said.

Opening in 2021, the physical store includes a collection of items from other Cape Breton-based businesses, alongside Lillian Co.’s in-house products.

Over time, Johnston Gray said her business has plans to keep involved in the small business community and help promote other vendors as her Charlotte Street store had. She hopes to eventually host occasional shopping events in one place with local crafters and shops.

“And more than just that, we want to make it exciting, offer incentives, samples, prizes (and) make it a fun community event in more than just one community.”

Port City Grocery on Charlotte Street. The organic and whole food grocery store said in a statement last week it would close at the end of the month after more than two years in downtown Sydney. LUKE DYMENT/CAPE BRETON POST - LUKE DYMENT/CAPE BRETON POST
Port City Grocery on Charlotte Street. The organic and whole food grocery store said in a statement last week it would close at the end of the month after more than two years in downtown Sydney. LUKE DYMENT/CAPE BRETON POST – LUKE DYMENT/CAPE BRETON POST

‘End of an era’

Port City’s closure comes less than two months after returning from a brief closure during Charlotte Street redevelopment work. It opened in the summer of 2021.

In the statement, Port City’s owners said the closure feels like the right decision given the direction of their lives.

“Port City Grocery was and will always be one of our greatest accomplishments — we made some of the best memories, met inspiring people, and grew more than we ever could have imagined. 

“It has been an absolute ride and we are proud to have been part of such an amazing community.”

When the Post contacted Gouthro-Burke, she said Port City would have no further comment beyond the online statement. The store has begun a clearance sale for most of its products, which a store employee said has brought in a larger-than-expected number of shoppers this week.

In the announcement, the Port City owners thanked customers, staff and their friends and family.

“Although we are heartbroken to announce this today, we are excited for the future, and are ready to close this chapter — it’s the end of an era.”

Kat Gouthro-Burke, the owner of Port City Grocery in Sydney, has been pleased with the community's support over the store's break in the fall. However, costs haven't been as kind, she told the Post in December. LUKE DYMENT/CAPE BRETON POST - LUKE DYMENT/CAPE BRETON POST
Kat Gouthro-Burke, the owner of Port City Grocery in Sydney, has been pleased with the community’s support over the store’s break in the fall. However, costs haven’t been as kind, she told the Post in December. LUKE DYMENT/CAPE BRETON POST – LUKE DYMENT/CAPE BRETON POST

Obstacles for business

The closures come amid challenges for some local small businesses, including downtown. The street’s redevelopment project has led to a drop in traffic for many shops in downtown Sydney. 

Businesses are also contending with the rising costs of supplies, rent and more. Some downtown owners — including Gouthro-Burke — discussed some of those challenges with the Post in December. Neither business commented on whether those reasons contributed to their decisions. 

The executive director of the Sydney Downtown Development Association said she’s gotten to know the owners well during their downtown stints, making it sad to see them go.

“We had been so excited to have them open on our main street and both businesses really brought a uniqueness to our downtown,” Michelle Wilson said. 

Wilson said in the cases of both shop closings, the owners have family responsibilities which can quickly change plans. 

“We’re never happy to see those (closures) happen but understand that, especially with young families, it happens.”

Michelle Wilson (left) and Danielle Casagrande of the Sydney Downtown Development Association. “We had been so excited to have them open on our main street and both businesses really brought really brought a uniqueness to our downtown,
Michelle Wilson (left) and Danielle Casagrande of the Sydney Downtown Development Association. “We had been so excited to have them open on our main street and both businesses really brought really brought a uniqueness to our downtown,” said Wilson about what Port City Grocery and Lillian Company — both of which are closing their Charlotte Street storefronts this month — brought to downtown Sydney. LUKE DYMENT/CAPE BRETON POST – Luke Dyment/Cape Breton Post
Port City Grocery owners Kat Gouthro-Burke and Devon Burke released a statement on the store's Facebook on Jan. 6 announcing the store would close by the end of the month. "We did not expect to make this announcement but our life is beginning to move in a different direction and we truly feel like it's the right decision for us," it read. LUKE DYMENT/CAPE BRETON POST - LUKE DYMENT/CAPE BRETON POST
Port City Grocery owners Kat Gouthro-Burke and Devon Burke released a statement on the store’s Facebook on Jan. 6 announcing the store would close by the end of the month. “We did not expect to make this announcement but our life is beginning to move in a different direction and we truly feel like it’s the right decision for us,” it read. LUKE DYMENT/CAPE BRETON POST – LUKE DYMENT/CAPE BRETON POST

– Luke Dyment is the multimedia journalist with the Cape Breton Post. Follow him on X (Twitter) @PostDyment.



 

Pair of Cape Breton businesses soon to close downtown Sydney storefronts
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