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