Plan B Merchants Co-op gets a renovation

After running into financial troubles from last year’s winter, the Gottingen Street co-op is changing up its space and making plans for the future

Bob Chiasson works on the new light fixtures at Plan B
Bob Chiasson works on the new light fixtures at Plan B   Mitchell Mullen

Plan B Merchant’s Co-op on Gottingen Street has undergone a facelift. Halifax’s oddball store for goods ranging from local arts and crafts to vinyl records to animal skulls is shedding its dungeon look and moving forward to brighter things.

Last year’s ruthless winter put the co-op in financial hot water when a drop in sales left it unable to pay its $5,000 overhead. Luckily, through some fundraising concerts and donations, the co-op raised the $3,000 it needed and Plan B kept its doors open.

Bob Chiasson, lead organizer of the co-op, says he doesn’t want to see the store go through anything like last winter again.

“We’d been here for four winters and nothing prepared us for that,” says Chiasson. “We essentially had one month completely taken away from us between February and March and there was nowhere for that money to come from.”

The co-op opened in 2011 and since then has become a neighbourhood fixture. Each of the merchants at the co-op rents a space and operates the store through their personal inventory. Several of the previous merchants have found enough success for them to start their own stores, separate from the co-op. With a circulating cast of vendors at the co-op, Plan B is no stranger to change, but the new additions to the store are the biggest changes yet.

Being a non-profit, the co-op runs on small margins. The overhead for the space is paid solely by the rent from merchants, so if the merchants can’t pay rent, neither can the co-op.

The most notable change to the space is a new café that will be serving up home-cooked food and coffee. The co-op plans to use the profits from the café to pay off a small deficit that it runs each month and provide a rainy day fund if sales slump again in the future. Chiasson says that the cafe will only have to make $40 in profit a day for it to meet the co-ops financial needs.

“The numbers are really good,” he says. “We’re shooting for the floor. We can’t miss with this.”

With the new café comes new food vendors, including My Sweet Geek, a bakery and chocolate vendor specializing in sci-fi and fantasy fare, run by Amy Wilson.

“They’ve done a great job updating the paint, colours and decoration, and coming up with a new revenue stream to keep it going,” says Wilson.

To make room for the new café and to brighten up the front of the store, volunteers have removed the front wall that previously blocked the store’s windows facing Gottingen Street. The co-op has also moved the cash counter to the middle of the room and refurbished the walls with wood and a fresh coat of paint. Vintage holophane lights, which Chiasson collected years ago, are being installed to light up the front of the store. Fixtures of Plan B, the vinyl record collection and the resident vintage clothing store, Vagabond Vintage, have been relocated farther back in the space.

Kayla Kirsch, a long-time customer is excited about the way the co-op is changing.“I’ve never been to another place like it,” she says. “I think the change is fantastic. By moving the counter to the middle of the space they’ve really opened up the room.”

The decision to renovate Plan B was decided by the merchants at a meeting held in November and they have all pitched in to make it a reality.

David Figueroa, owner of Vagabond Vintage, says changing the look of the co-op had been in the works for a long time, but it was a suggestion of a friend that kickstarted the project.

“It was funny. One of our regular customers and friends came in and just said we should move the café up front. We’d thought about it a lot, but it initiated us talking about it again and it just happened.”

The new café, dubbed Plan C, will be opening up for the first time this Saturday for a Valentine’s Day pop-up shop featuring gift boxes and sweets from My Sweet Geek.

For Chiasson, the co-op will run like it always has, with the benefit of everyone involved in mind, but it will also allow the co-op to keep improving.

“It’s a not for profit organization, so if we can find a way to make the space better then the members will benefit,” he says.