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How this St. John's retailer is giving local vendors a leg up

Urban Market 1919 grows its selection of local and imported goods
urban market 1919
Urban Market 1919 was named in honour of the first successful non-stop transatlantic flight from St. John’s to Ireland in 1919. The takeoff point, Lester’s Field, is where the store is located. Photography courtesy Urban Market 191

A small supermarket in St. John’s, N.L. is supporting local in a big way.

Urban Market 1919, a 2,500-sq.-ft grocery store that opened in 2020, stocks products from more than 400 local vendors from Newfoundland and Labrador. 

Ivy Hanley, who owns Urban Market with her husband Greg, says when the store first opened, it had around 70 local vendors. Over the years, the store’s lineup has grown in response to customer feedback. “Because we’re a small family business, one thing that we can do differently than larger corporations is physically take little hand notes in a customer request book and follow up with it and search for these items that customers are looking for,” she says. “We’ve done that from the very beginning, and I truly believe that also sets us apart from other people.” 

Urban Market offers a full range of groceries, including produce, bakery, dairy, meat and seafood, prepared foods and frozen, as well as giftware and beer.  Urban Market also caters to shoppers with various dietary restrictions. Hanley describes the concept as more of a speciality shop. “There is a big focus on charcuterie—a lot of people love our specialty cheeses and deli meats,” she says. Now, plans are in the works to build on its selection, including local and imported goods. “We want to expand our grocery import line to items that you can’t get at the big box stores here in town,” says Hanley.

Four years in, Hanley says her favourite part of the job is seeing local vendors grow their businesses. “You’re making more of an impact than just your store, and that’s something we absolutely love,” she says.

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urban market 1919
Photography courtesy Urban Market 1919

One notable example is Gingerly Plant-Based Bakery. The owner was previously baking out of her home kitchen and now has a commercial kitchen and eight employees. Other local food vendors to be found at Urban Market are pizza-makers Piatto; Chinched, a local butcher that supplies local meats; Mamacitas, which specializes in authentic Mexican dishes; and Volcano Bakery, which creates Icelandic-inspired pastries and breads.

“We do food gift baskets as well,” Hanley says. “When those go out, we’ll put tags on them that say, ‘Today you supported 18 Newfoundland and Labrador families, not just Urban Market.’ It’s something that not a lot of stores can say.” 

READ: Grocery leaders share their strategies for buying local

But Urban Market isn’t just supporting local vendors, it’s also at the heart of the Hanley’s revitalization plan in the neighbourhood they’ve named Brookfield District. Greg is a commercial developer who grew up in the area, which was once a manufacturing hub and residential area. Ivy’s career background is in offshore commercial diving. 

When they purchased what Hanley describes as “a graffiti-covered four-acre section in the west end of St. John’s,” which included the Urban Market building (a former convenience store) and the near-century-old Brookfield Ice Cream factory, Greg’s vision was to develop a condominium. 

“When I saw the property and the history with it and we talked about it, we realized how much we needed to pull back on this condo development and really hold on to the local history,” Hanley says. “So, we decided to try a little community market in one of the buildings on the property.” 

urban market 1919
Photography courtesy Urban Market 1919

At the time, Hanley says covid was making local products inaccessible. “Before, farmers and local artisans were able to sell at the [St. John’s Farmers’ Market] or on Facebook Marketplace, but then they didn’t want to go to someone’s door [because of the pandemic],” she recalls. “So we said, ‘Why don’t we make it so it’s accessible seven days a week until 10 o’clock at night. And that’s what we did.” 

The idea behind Brookfield District is to bring life back into the area and make it a place for people to “live, work and play,” says Hanley. 

Another expansion to the Urban Market building is already underway. The Hanleys also recently opened a standalone flower shop called Theresa James Floral and are currently planning a coffee shop. Meanwhile, the 65,000-sq.-ft. former ice cream factory is being redeveloped with manufacturing suites, event venues, retail spaces and artist studios. 

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