I usually shy away from referring to myself personally when posting on this site – I tend to refer to "we" or "UPPERCASE" when announcing new shows and products or recommending links. This habit began in 1996 when I was first starting my design business, Vangool Design & Typography. Working from home and growing a design business when I was 23 and fresh out of college, it made me seem a little more confident and capable.
Since I opened UPPERCASE in March 2005 (and moved my design business out of the small room off the kitchen), I've slowly grown accustomed to being in a more public spot. My old situation allowed the occasional sleep-in and pajama workday. Sometimes days – or even weeks – would pass before I'd need to interact with a client or service provider in person. But after nearly ten years of working from home, I was really itching to get out into "the real world".
When Art Central opened in November 2004, I was immediately enamored with its potential of creating a community in Calgary dedicated to art and design. This was really what I was craving after all those years of working alone. I could imagine my long-term dream of having a studio/design bookstore happening in this space. I had previously set aside the bookstore idea as impractical since so many lovely independent bookstores had come and gone in Calgary. But with Art Central as a larger entity helping to pull in like-minded customers, my hopes for a design bookshop in Calgary were re-ignited. I reasoned that my design business would support the rent and operating costs of running a store. My expectations for the store were minimal.
Within about two weeks of seeing an empty available space (and falling in love with its gorgeous brick wall and view of the York Hotel's art deco details), I had presented a business description to my landlord and signed the lease. To fit with the mandate of Art Central, I couldn't just have a design studio: it would also have to be open to the public. So the concept of the store was to present the world of design and illustration, and of a working graphic designer, in a public way. Estimating costs, listing pros and cons, and following my intuition: that was the extent of my business plan.
Needless to say, there's a lot of financial risk involved in this venture, but UPPERCASE as a concept and store has already grown passed what I initially envisioned for it. I had absolutely no previous retail experience, so I really had no idea what was involved. I also seriously underestimated the money, work and amount of time it would take! However, it has really been a much-needed outlet for my own creativity and entrepreneurial spirit. It is so satisfying to develop an idea, make it happen and see it purchased from happy customers. I look forward to continuing to nurture the store and its future related projects as I branch out into another long-term dream: great books on design, illustration and pop culture published by UPPERCASE and designed by me! (Look for an announcement coming early next year.)
Here a photo of me taken last week. I'm surrounded by boxes of holiday items being prepared for wholesale and online customers.
I'd like to thank my husband, Glen, for helping me when things get overwhelming. Here he is – coincidentally dressed to match my Christmas cards. I'd also like to thank Katie, who works in the store on Saturdays and Sundays, giving me much-needed weekends!