Heritage and business co-exist at Shannon Passero’s ‘The Post Office’



Niagara This Week – Thorold – By Paul Forsyth

THOROLD — She’s made ethics, sustainability and environmentally friendly manufacturing processes cornerstones of her thriving clothing business, so the loving preservation of heritage buildings seems like a natural fit for Shannon Passero.

Two years after she had Thorold’s historic former fire hall repurposed as her new clothing design studio and retail outlet, Passero has restored another heritage gem in the city’s downtown – the former post office – and given it a new lease on life.

The eight-month restoration carried out by Silvergate Homes, her husband Mike’s family’s business, sees Passero move her retail outlet from the first floor of the fire hall into the cavernous, 6,500-square-foot building dating back to 1936.

Passero said the overwhelming response to the opening of her clothing store at the fire hall made the move to a much larger venue necessary.

“The community gave me the vote of confidence in the small store, in order to take a big step,” she said. “The amount of support is really overwhelming.”

Passero, co-founder of the Pure Handknit line of hand-knitted sweaters who launched her Neon Buddha line of lifestyle clothing for work, home, travel and yoga in 2006, is expanding into home furnishings, gifts and décor at her new store on Front Street known simply as ‘The Post Office.’

Many of the items are ones Passero picks up on her frequent trips to Southeast Asia and Europe, and can’t be found anywhere else in North America, she said. The unique nature of the inventory in a world of cookie cutter, big-box stores was already drawing people from as far away as Los Angeles and Calgary.

“It’s become a destination spot,” said Passero. “Our goal was to have a really unique lifestyle boutique, and I think we achieved that.”

Passero will officially open ‘The Post Office’ Wednesday evening.

The post office building, originally known as the Dominion Building, had been vacant for a decade until Passero approached a real estate agent and negotiated a sale from the previous owner.

From the start of the restoration, Passero and her husband worked hand-in-hand with Heritage Thorold – the city’s architectural conservation advisory committee – to ensure the project met the highest standards of heritage preservation, said Craig Finlay, chair of the group.

“They were dedicated and serious about keeping the heritage nature of the building,” he said. “It’s an incredible building.

“They understand that heritage and business can co-exist. They’re incredible to work with.”

Passero said original black marble in the building that was smashed was repaired, old doors and original flooring in the foyer were carefully restored, and dozens of original windows were reglazed by specialist firms. The window sills were scraped down to find the original paint colour to they could be repainted in the same slate blue.

“It’s painstakingly done,” she said.

While simply tearing out the old and putting in new would have been cheaper, Passero said maintaining heritage features was something she felt was a must.

“One of the things I’m interested in personally is repurposing a heritage building to a viable business,” she said.

A showpiece of the building is a new art deco railing on the front, which Passero had custom made after seeing a similar design on grates on the windows of a New York City post office dating back to the same era.

In addition to the emphasis on heritage, Passero is also determined to promote local entrepreneurs at her new store. Her inventory includes the work of dozens of local women, from the hand-made soap of the Cornerstone Soap Company and hand-made bracelets by Niagara Falls-based Giftology to the gourmet jams and shortbreads made by Lori Elstone, owner of Beamsville’s Provisions Food Company who was the 2013 winner of the first annual Shannon Passero Women in Business grant.

Passero is also taking advantage of her new location’s vast space to promote local artists in a new exhibit space. St. Catharines photographer Robin McPherson will be the first artist to exhibit.

Passero said she hopes her new venture is one more step forward for the ongoing rebirth of Thorold’s business district by bringing people from across Niagara to the downtown.

“Post offices are normally a gathering spot for the community,” she said. “That’s what we’re hoping will happen here.

“What’s exciting for me as a business owner is that it shows that shopping local is very viable in a town like this.”