This month, we caught up with Walter Manning and Savannah Olsen from Old Faithful Shop for a dose of family tradition, shared vision and the struggle to separate work and life.
Old Faithful Shop opened in May of 2010, taking customers back to simpler times when products were made to last and shop owners knew your name. It paid homage to general stores owned by Walter’s ancestors and offered an alternative shopping experience for Vancouverites.
“We felt there was room in the retail landscape for something small scale and honest. A warm, welcoming place that people returned to over and over again and received a consistent experience each time.”
Walter & Savannah with Jean-Pierre back in 2010 when the shop opened.
Photo by Grant Harder
Walter chose a spot in Gastown that had promise, removing old plaster to reveal the brick underneath, refinishing the wood plank ceiling and installing a new fir floor to restore the 1903 space to its early glory.
“The old buildings and sense of history provided the perfect backdrop for our products. There are also many businesses in the area that share a common vision and really enhance the neighbourhood.”
In stocking the shop, Walter focused on practical home goods with a distinct aesthetic.
“There are some customers that are drawn to nostalgia, but we really view the products as inherently useful for today. We like to think of our products as timeless pieces that can fit in both heritage and modern interiors alike.”
For Savannah, there was also the desire to build community by creating a space that people would respond to and return to on a regular basis.
“I enjoy coming into the store after five years and seeing the same people that shopped with us when we first opened. I feel that our staff has done an excellent job carrying through the vision.”
WORKING SIDE BY SIDE
OFS has been a shared dream for the pair since day one, something Walter feels was a big piece of the puzzle. “Stores take a tremendous amount of work and energy and you really need to have the proper motivation to see it all through.”
Walter was always on the floor in the early days, but Savannah initially kept her previous job in order to support them both. Once she joined him full time, things started to grow and staff were hired to run the day-to-day operation. Since then, the pair have had more time to focus on sourcing products, establishing an online presence and planning for the future.
Today, Savannah notes that their roles often keep them in different places. “I work on the operational stuff with our store management to keep things running smoothly, as well as ordering, bookkeeping and payroll. Walter heads the online store, including all the photography, social media, blogging, and shipping. There’s more crossover when we work together on the overall vision for our business.
Savannah and Head Shopkeeper, Donny, mug for the camera during the Gastown Shop Hop.
ALL IN THE FAMILY
Walter and Savannah recently opened a second Old Faithful location in Toronto, with Walter spending most of the last year in the big smoke building out the new space. But, now that the doors are open, things are getting back to normal. “Our Toronto staff is amazing so right now they’re making it easy for us.”
Like anything, running a family business is a work in progress. For Savannah, the biggest challenge is creating boundaries between work time and personal time. “There is carry over in all aspects which can be difficult to navigate at times, but I love being in charge of my schedule so that I can be available to raise our daughter.”
Walter agrees. “It’s really tough to distance yourself from the business when everything you do is so involved in it. But, the ability to be able to follow a vision and etch out a livelihood from that makes it all worthwhile.”
You’ll find Old Faithful Shop at 320 West Cordova Street (between Homer & Cambie).