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Thursday, November 8, 2018

Thirty years of magic at The Black Market

Downtown’s beloved import boutique celebrates three decades of bringing gems from around the world into the homes of Haligonians.

Posted By on Thu, Nov 8, 2018 at 5:14 AM

RACHEL MCGRATH
  • RAchel McGrath
The Black Market Boutique claims its own corner of the city boldly. The rainbow paint outside the Grafton Street shop can be seen from afar, drawing curious eyes to its doorstep. Inside, the boutique overflows with jewellery, incense, home decor and funky clothing sourced from around the world. It’s a downtown icon for shoppers of all ages: from teenagers wanting cheap thrills to adults investing in unique gems for their home.

The shop opened its colourful doors 30 years ago when avid explorers Dawn and Dominique Villermet decided to put down some roots in Halifax. Originally, the two met travelling and would buy things to sell in their next destination. They kept up this lifestyle for about three years, until they relocated to Canada and started street vending. Slowly, their worldly business venture morphed into what is now The Black Market.

Wiebke Kungl and Lauren Parsons, strangers to each other at the time, started working at the boutique in 2002. This year, the longtime managers of the shop became part-owners of the business.The two say they have been working towards this position for a very long time, starting by going on “buying trips” early on. Each year, the owners of the boutique travel to India, Nepal, Indonesia and Thailand in search of authentic items. Occasionally, they visit Ecuador and Peru.
“It’s a treasure hunt, basically,” says Kungl, describing what it’s like to sift through a crammed market in Bangkok.

The owners’ relationship with the sellers they buy from varies country to country. In India for example, they have been doing business with the same people since The Black Market opened. When the owners visit Pushkar their friendships are so established that they consistently get invited for chai, dinner and even to weddings. Today, the Villermets execute trips to Bali, Indonesia, while Kungl and Parsons have the rest covered.

click to enlarge Wiebke Kungl and Lauren Parsons - ASHLEY CORBETT
  • Ashley Corbett
  • Wiebke Kungl and Lauren Parsons
“We do pretty much everything now…the buying, the running of the shops,” says Parsons. The two are grateful that the shop’s original owners have “worked very hard to come up with a creative way for younger people to buy a very established business,” says Kungl.


Though the shop remains a constant in Halifax, it has definitely evolved. A Black Market in Chester, Parsons’ hometown, debuted in 2014. The shop also began shipping across Canada this year. Kungl and Parsons say that even the products they bring in have altered recently.

“Since we’ve been with the store…it’s changed a lot,” says Parsons. “As we get older too, our tastes change. So we’re watching what we want to bring in be a little more expensive, a little higher quality.”

Kungl agrees: “We’re getting away from fast fashion and a little bit more into handmade,” she says.

Even so, the original values of The Black Market remain the same. Parsons says the Villermets are a little hard to live up to, since they always go “the full mile.”  But it’s pretty clear that the founding principles of the shop, like ethically sourced products, treating people fairly and giving back to the communities they buy from, haven’t wavered under their watch.

This Saturday the store celebrates its three decades in business by giving back to its regular shoppers with an all-day 30 percent off sale.

“It is kind of crazy to step back and think about it, because you know what,” says Parsons of the anniversary, “it’s hard to be a successful business and be able to change and grow and stay relevant into the 30th year.”

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