The Normandy Shoppe family is such a Corydon Avenue staple that it’s hard to believe the men’s fashion and lifestyle shop just celebrated its first year in business.
“It just feels like we’ve been here forever,” confirms Amanda Remond, one-third of the shop’s fixtures, which include her partner Christopher Saniuk and their store greeter, a mini auburn-coated goldendoodle named Norman.
It’s their familiarity that makes them feel like veterans to the scene – a routine of easy conversation follows Norman’s eager welcome. They’ve slipped comfortably into a home that didn’t immediately seem like an obvious fit.
“The entire place was this bubbling white plastic paneling… Chris was like, ‘This is the space.’
“I couldn’t picture it,” says Amanda.
What used to house kitschy shops like Sugar Mountain and Dingo’s Wild & Crazy Dogs, the couple turned into one of the finest displays of reclaimed wood and industrial decor in the city. They spent nearly an entire summer gathering wood for Chris to complete the renovation.
When it opened in November 2013, the store had so much identity that it quickly cemented its place in Winnipeg’s psyche. Norman’s name was even chosen in homage to the shop, so he could be known as the “Prince of Normandy.”
Time has flown for Winnipeg’s first family of Normandy, witnessing brisk growth in the store’s customer base and interest flourish from brand reps.
Amanda reflects on Normandy’s humble beginnings, back when they had an unfinished store and no business clout to speak of. “We had to go meet (brand reps) just to be like, ‘Hey, we’re normal people. We’re going to represent your brands well.’”
This year, they returned to the annual New York Men’s Market Week, and found that exhibiting brands knew them and actively sought out to work with them. “It was like a 180 – people wanted to meet us,” she says.
Why it works
Many things distinguish Normandy in the local market – while there are places like Old Faithful Shop and Neighbour Shop in Vancouver with heritage-driven decor and a return to old-school fine craftsmanship – the same things firmly plant Normandy in a league of its own here.
The high-end brands chosen are ethically made (mostly in the United States), and are meant to endure. Brands like Filson have been quality assured since 1897, and were previously unavailable in Winnipeg.“It was kind of ‘see a need, fill a need,’” says Amanda. “If your price point is going to be the same as H&M and Zara, they’re just going to shop there because there’s more selection.
“It’s important to us to carry good brands that have a good story and represent good people… And we only do small orders. It keeps it more of a boutique experience.”
Besides answering a need in the market, Normandy goes well beyond the call of duty for a fashion boutique.
They host interesting events – an upcoming touring show will solidify a brand’s motorcycle culture ties with bikes on display and a shot of whiskey administered with T-shirt purchases. (Chris’ pride, a’65 Ducati, is always perched in a focal point in the shop.)
And Normandy says “yes” to most community endeavours – hosting wedding photoshoots, music video recordings, pop-up shops, and even an oyster party. “I think the craziest off-brand thing we did was a baby shower,” laughs Amanda.
They welcome their community hangout reputation, recommending nearby restaurants and accepting freshly coiffed visitors for Norman from the next-door Hip Pooch.
“It’s a good little meeting place,” affirms Chris. “Getting the community together keeps people interested, keeps things changing.”
There have also been a few successful local businesses nurtured by Normandy. BeardBrothers Woodworking sold its cutting boards at Normandy, and now counts products at King + Bannatyne and other prosperous contracts to its credit, allowing them to pursue their dream full-time. Matt Jenkins of Cloverdale Forge, a custom blacksmith, approached Normandy to sell his rugged and utilitarian metals.
“This is our livelihood now,” explains Amanda. “We’re not going to say ‘no’ to people to help them do what they want to do.”
When it comes down to it, few things are more inviting than reliable customer service, and since you can go in everyday and find either Chris or Amanda, who’re endlessly knowledgeable about their brands, it’s nice to know you’re in capable hands each visit.
You can even see Amanda’s familiar face on weekends working the coat check at The Good Will Social Club, where the couple also gets their coffee every morning.
“It makes me feel like there’s such an overlap of people that go to the same places,” says Amanda, who is regularly recognized at the bar. Or – we can just call that community.