After almost a decade, one local business is closing its doors forever.
“It’s hard to be an independent retailer and at some point, you have to make a business decision,” said Lynn Hillaby, owner of Hillaby’s Tools for Cooks.
The store, which is located in the Enjoy Centre, offers quality cookware from across the world. Hillaby’s also features charcuterie boards, rolling pins and aprons crafted by local people.
The store first opened in 2011. Hillaby – who has travelled the world taking cooking classes – said it’s been a lifelong dream to open her own food-focused business.
“I love cooking, I love gadgets, it’s my favourite kind of store,” she said. “I did a lot of travelling for a number of years and every city I landed in, I managed to find the kitchen stores. You learn so much about a culture from how they cook.”
Hillaby often spends hours browsing the web for new products to fill her shelves. It’s part of the job she said she’s going to miss the most.
But after years of tax increases, minimum wage hikes and municipal fees, the owner has made the decision to close after Christmas. Hillaby currently has six employees who have agreed to stick with her to the end.
“Most of my staff have been with me since day one, and that’s hard too,” she said. “It’s hard to let them go.”
Hillaby, who has always supported initiatives to shop local, said it’s also been difficult to compete against online shopping and large box stores. Some customers will ask about a product and then find it cheaper online, she said.
What makes her business different, however, is the individualized attention each customer receives upon entering the store. When someone picks up a cast iron skillet or large pot, Hillaby and her staff provide information on how to take care of it.
The owner said all the items in the store have been personally tested by employees. When new equipment comes in, staff will take one home and see how it works. That means every employee knows exactly how the product works.
“I try it and make sure it’s a good product,” she explained. “I look around and I’ve used it all.”
Katherine Townsend, who is a loyal customer at Hillaby’s, said she will miss the store once it closes. In 2015, she stumbled across the cookware shop while exploring the Enjoy Centre. She has shopped there ever since.
“We walked in, met Lynn and we were just really impressed with her selection of kitchenware,” she said. “We’re really going to miss her. She is such a nice part of this community and we are just so sad to see her go.”
Townsend’s kitchen is completely outfitted with items from Hillaby’s Tools for Cooks. When the store closes, she said she would get her kitchen equipment from a similar family-owned business in Edmonton.
For Hillaby, saying goodbye to the store has been difficult. When she first opened, she expected to retire at an old age from the business.
“I liken it most to a divorce. It’s your baby and you’ve put a lot of time and energy into it. It’s in your thoughts all the time.”
Hillaby said she’s thankful that she has been able to stay open for so long, however, and will miss her customers. While it’s been tough, she said she’s at peace with the decision.
But it’s not the end for the entrepreneur. While she won’t be opening another store, she is starting to plan food tours around the world.
Hillaby already has one set for Italy next year, where residents will experience the country’s rich culture.
“We’re going to 10 days of food tourism. So cooking classes, wine tastings, olive pressings. It’s going to be great,” she said.
The tour is open to anyone wishing to join. For those wanting one last look at the store, Hillaby’s Tools for Cooks is offering a 30 per cent discount on all store items until its closing date.