A shopkeeper sits in her store window.
Beauty,  Food,  Lifestyle

In Conversation with Stef // Lore General Store

Name: Stef Hartwig 
Shop: Lore General Store
Address: Formerly 1332 Government Street, Victoria, Canada; now solely online
Instagram: @loregeneral 

The inside of shop.
A view of the front of the shop.

What is Lore?  

Lore is a retail shop which creates connections between our products and our customers. We specialize in handmade, well-made beauty, home, kitchen & pantry, zero-waste products from small and established companies. 

Can you tell us about your background? You owned a clothing shop in the past. What made you decide to go back into retail?

I opened my first store in 2002 and ran it for five years. I decided I needed a break and wanted a change in life, so I closed up shop and moved to Thailand for three years. There I focused on my health journey and took some courses online through Parsons. When I arrived home, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but at the time my dad needed some help, so I decided to learn the family business of property development. I had been working for him for about two years  — and not being fulfilled creatively — when this storefront space came up for lease. The landlord had called me a few times to see if I wanted to open a store there as we had done a pop up in the space before. I was hesitant, but decided to write a plan anyway. I got a decent lease and from there Lore was born. It was only meant to be a one-year pop up but here we are, four years later. 

Tell us a little about your store name. Why did you choose the name Lore?

One of my best friends came up with the name when I was trying to decide on one. I think maybe she found it in the dictionary when I was explaining the idea of the type of products I was going to carry. Every single one of our products and makers has a story behind it. We are lucky each and every day for us to be able to share that story with our customers. 

Products are set up on a table for a social media photo.
Stef arranges product for an Instagram photo.

If you had to describe your shop to someone who hasn’t seen it, what would you say? 

A clean and serene environment filled with useful, well-made products that you are going to use and love. 

Can you tell us a bit about your personal style and aesthetic?

My personal style is very different then the shop’s — probably the exact opposite. I wear a uniform of black jeans, a hoodie and a pair of Nike sneakers or Vans. It’s very plain, very functional, very the same, and I wear it every day. I really appreciate all styles and aesthetics; there is something beautiful about each and every one of them and they all have their place. That said, I am currently really into contemporary Belgian and Japanese design; they are clean and minimalist with a mix of different textures. 

What or who inspires you? 

I’m really inspired by interior design and architecture. Vincent Van Duysen, Axel Vervoordt, Nicolas Schuybroek, Sébastien Caporusso, Ryu Kosaka, Ryotaro Ando are all interior designers and architects that I’m getting a lot of inspiration from. I’m also inspired by my friends who are business owners and how they have risen to the occasion during this time. They are all taking ideas they have, made their businesses adaptable to the current times and are working so hard. That is so inspiring to me because it’s so easy to give up when things get hard, but they haven’t. They have taken a really challenging time and are making the best of it, like Susannah and Danielle at Ruth & Dean, Claudia at Bernstein & Gold, the guys at The Village and so many more in our city trying to make it work. You all inspire me. 

Jars of food products on a shelf at a shop.
Some of the healthy food products found at Lore.

Each season represents new trends and new products. How do you evaluate what is working and what isn’t?  What guides you in your choices? 

There is always a lot that goes into getting the product on the shelves and for us it’s been about really listening to our customers to what they want and need. My job is to get them the things they want and to bring in products that align with our values and theirs. We change products each season, although some might stay year-round with others that disappear for a little while and come back during a certain time of year. We are always changing and growing, which I think guides me in our choices. In our next phase [of online only], I’m excited to grow and bring in new brands for people to enjoy and experience.

Where and how do you source your makers and products you carry in your store?

That’s a secret that will stay with me! Sourcing is one of my favourite parts. It’s something I can spend hours and hours doing and it’s one of the reasons I decided to open a store again. It’s probably one of my greatest skills and I will say that I have lists and lists of hundreds of brands and products that one day will maybe make an entrance into Lore or maybe another venture. 

Shaving products set up for a photo.
Shaving products set up for a photo.

Recently you’ve made a big decision to move your store exclusively online. Can you tell us a little about that and what it means for Lore? 

For the last six months, have we been making moves to close our storefront on Government St and move solely online, to build a studio/shop and once in a while, create pop-up shops. It was a really difficult choice to make because I love the connection we have with our customers and the relationships we have built with them, but ultimately it is the best choice for us. What a lot of people don’t know is that I have another full-time job; I’m still working with my dad on his property development business, and I will be moving to a bigger role there exploring my other love of creating spaces, construction and development. With the closing of our storefront, I will be able to focus more on the things I love, like creating pop-up shops, growing our gift box program, and of course, our new online store. It will allow me to grow more. I have so many ideas and things I want to do and having the physical storefront makes it hard to pursue these other things. 

In the current state of the pandemic we are in, Instagram and our online shop has been our saving grace. We also discovered Zoom and FaceTime are great tools for us. We recently launched virtual shopping and it’s been a great way to connect with our customers. Sometimes purchasing online is tough because you’re just looking at a picture, but Zoom and FaceTime give our customers the ability to get face-to-face customer service and see the product better. It has allowed us to stay somewhat afloat and to continue on. We are so grateful to all of our customers who have made orders and supported us. It’s truly amazing to see how the community has come together. 

What are some of the hardest lessons you’ve had starting your business? How have you overcome them?

There are always lessons to be learned in your business, and no matter whether you’re just starting or have been in business for 30 years, it’s always a learning experience. If I had to choose, one would be when it gets tough, like right now, you have to just keep on going, keep trying, keep your head up and focus on the light at the end of the tunnel. The second hardest lesson is to always stay on your toes. Anything could happen and you need to be adaptable. Whether it be something like our current state, or a brand you carry and another store decides to carry it as well, you have to be willing to morph and move on to the next thing. 

Colourful ceramic mugs on display at a shop.
Colourful ceramics.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to open up a shop? 

Be ready to work harder than you ever have and love every minute of it. Be okay with change, adapt, embrace it and enjoy it. 

Have you made any hard decisions to get you through this difficult time? 

I made the hardest decision about closing the store before COVID-19 happened, so this all felt like the stars were aligning and telling me I’m moving in the right direction. When making hard decisions, I try to seek out advice from people who might have been there and to trust my gut. 

We are being told to let go of a lot right now and adapt – it’s overwhelming and we’re all trying to cope as best as we can. How are you coping? What’s been working for you?  

Currently I’m coping okay, I’m trying to stay focused on what I can do in this moment and the path ahead. I can’t control what’s happening around me, only what’s inside my bubble. Exercise, cooking, focusing on my internal health, being creative and bringing new ideas to light are all things that are helping me cope. I have also been using this time to really look at where my life is at, where my business is at, and where I want to be.

Products on a shelf at a shop.
A few products left on the shelf.

As we navigate our new reality, what advice would you give to your fellow shop owners? Any helpful tips?

Try every idea you have and use this time to stop and really look at your business, how you operate, brands you carry, how your staff are doing, what type of leader you are and how you want to move forward. Not very often do we get the time where there is no one around and for us to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Reach out to people in your community and ask for advice. Now more than ever, people are in the spirit of helping and it’s a great time to make new connections. Remember there is light at the end of the tunnel. 

If you were looking back to this moment in time, what do you hope to gain in personal + business growth? What 3 words best describe how you’re feeling today?

I hope to just keep going forward, to really focus on where I want to be and for some of the ideas I have to come to light. Today I am feeling positive, hopeful, and inspired. 

How can customers support you?

By going to our new online shop: Lore General Store

Lore is now closed as a brick-and-mortar shop as it transitions to solely online.