November 18, 2017

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Winter wonderland on Academy Road

As Time Goes By embraces Christmas spirit

PHOTOS BY WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>With Christmas fast approaching, Katie James's Academy Road store has been taken over by the yuletide spirit.</p>

PHOTOS BY WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

With Christmas fast approaching, Katie James's Academy Road store has been taken over by the yuletide spirit.

It’s beginning to look, and sound, a lot like Christmas.

On a recent Wednesday evening, while dapperly dressed singer Chad Celaire entertained customers with carols about a red-nosed reindeer and one-horse open sleighs, Katie James, owner of As Time Goes By, a store on Academy Road that is celebrating its seventh anniversary this month, stood near a vintage-looking tin canister marked Blessings and counted her own.

“I don’t want this to come across like a cliché, but this has truly been a labour of love, since the beginning,” James said the morning after her sixth annual open house event, which drew shoppers from as far as Saskatchewan to her locale, which, every November and December, is transformed from a home-décor biz specializing in braided rugs and wood furniture, into a lovingly decorated, winter wonderland.

“Sure, there were nights of crying and worrying early on, when I wasn’t exactly ordering lobster,” she goes on, adjusting a cloth tree ornament upon which the words, “Be naughty and give Santa the night off,” are stitched. “But I can honestly say there hasn’t been a single day when I woke up and thought, ‘Jeez, I don’t want to go in today.” Never, ever.”

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It’s beginning to look, and sound, a lot like Christmas.

On a recent Wednesday evening, while dapperly dressed singer Chad Celaire entertained customers with carols about a red-nosed reindeer and one-horse open sleighs, Katie James, owner of As Time Goes By, a store on Academy Road that is celebrating its seventh anniversary this month, stood near a vintage-looking tin canister marked Blessings and counted her own.

A Christmas tree displays many of the ornaments available.</p>

A Christmas tree displays many of the ornaments available.

"I don’t want this to come across like a cliché, but this has truly been a labour of love, since the beginning," James said the morning after her sixth annual open house event, which drew shoppers from as far as Saskatchewan to her locale, which, every November and December, is transformed from a home-décor biz specializing in braided rugs and wood furniture, into a lovingly decorated, winter wonderland.

"Sure, there were nights of crying and worrying early on, when I wasn’t exactly ordering lobster," she goes on, adjusting a cloth tree ornament upon which the words, "Be naughty and give Santa the night off," are stitched. "But I can honestly say there hasn’t been a single day when I woke up and thought, ‘Jeez, I don’t want to go in today." Never, ever."


Choose from the collection of elf salt-and-pepper shakers.</p>

Choose from the collection of elf salt-and-pepper shakers.

James, 36, was born and raised in Montreal. She moved to Winnipeg in 2007, but shoots her interviewer a next-question-please-look, when she is asked what brought her west 10 years ago.

"I fell in love, he was from here, but in the end, well... you know," she eventually responds.

She says "Hi, beautiful," to a woman who, on her way into the store, asks James if she knows what’s going to replace the recently bulldozed building that was across the street. (James hasn’t heard, but is crossing her fingers her new neighbour is going to be a restaurant of some sort, "hopefully a Stella’s.")

Although James, who is fluently bilingual, worked primarily in the hospitality industry before her arrival in Winnipeg, she always dreamed of running a store stacked floor to ceiling with goods she refers to as "country-prim" — short for country-primitive — a decorating style she was introduced to by her parents.

"There are a few different kinds of country," she says, giving a quick tutorial. "There’s regular country; that’s the spurs-and-horses-deal, which I don’t do. There’s French country, which is a little more frou-frou. Then there’s country primitive, which is more of an old, rustic look... barn stars, tinware – that sort of thing. Back home, it’s everywhere, but here, there was nobody selling it."

The snowmen at As Time Goes By are enjoying the chilly weather.</p>

The snowmen at As Time Goes By are enjoying the chilly weather.

In October 2010, she was leafing through the Free Press’s classified section, when she spotted a space-for-rent blurb that looked intriguing.

She contacted the real estate agent and made an appointment to visit the premises at 442 Academy Rd., which turned out to be a salon called Madison Hair Designs. She was told the owners were hoping to scale down their operation, by leasing the front half of the space. Because the size of the room — roughly 500 sq. ft. — was perfect for the type of shop James had been envisioning, she signed the contract immediately, agreeing to move in, in three weeks’ time. One problem: she had zero merchandise to line the shelves.

OK, there was a second problem: she didn’t have any shelves, either.

Decorative Christmas-themed houses bringing a festive glow to a room.</p>

Decorative Christmas-themed houses bringing a festive glow to a room.

"I didn’t have anything, period," she says, chuckling. "No bags, no cash register… nothing. I mean, when I opened on Nov. 1 (2010), the only thing I had for sale were these wax-rolled, battery-operated candles I bought from an American wholesaler, after days of frantically searching online."

James, who has since become a familiar face at major industry events such as the Canadian Gift and Tableware Association’s Gift Show, laughs again, as she recalls her initial day on the job.

"The few people who wandered in, I could tell by the look on their face they must have been thinking, ‘What a strange, little store; just one table with a bunch of candles on it?’ But I ended up selling $30 worth (of candles) my very first day, mainly because people took pity on me, I’m almost certain. I was so happy by the time I closed, I cried. It’s not a word of a lie to say I built this entire store on the back of those candles." (Because she believes it would be bad karma, she refuses to bump up the price of those particular items, to this day. "I still sell them for $8.95 each. They’re supposed to be at least $12.50, but — this probably sounds silly — I feel a sense of gratitude toward them," she says, giving one a gentle rub.)


Every Christmas shop needs a portrait of Santa Claus.</p>

Every Christmas shop needs a portrait of Santa Claus.

In October 2016, James was hard at work when she was approached by a representative from Hallmark Channel, the American cable network that was filming Journey Back to Christmas, a made-for-TV movie starring Candace Cameron Bure and Oliver Hudson, in Winnipeg and Selkirk.

"One of the ladies in charge of set decorations had researched my online Christmas stuff, apparently, and they ended up decorating almost their entire (set) with things from here," she says, citing the black-and-white version of A Christmas Carol, with Alastair Sim as Scrooge, as her favourite Christmas movie of all time. "My store manager and I watched the movie, with eyes peeled for items from the shop. They were sprinkled throughout the film and it was really fun to see."

That said, it’s not as if James, who routinely ships items coast-to-coast, has to wait for Hollywood to come calling, to spy her wares all aglow.

Christmas wouldn’t be complete without nutcrackers.</p>

Christmas wouldn’t be complete without nutcrackers.

"What’s cool is when I’m driving around town running errands, and I spot lights or candles from my store, in people’s windows," she says, mouthing "how adorable are these?" to a customer getting ready to purchase a set of glass tree ornaments shaped like miniature wine goblets.

As Time Goes By is open seven days a week, until Christmas. Store hours on Dec. 24 are noon to 5 p.m., but, as in years past, that schedule isn’t necessarily set in stone.

"My clientele is probably 95 per cent women, but that changes on Christmas Eve, especially the closer I get to closing time," she says. "(Christmas Eve) is almost exclusively men, many of whom rush in here just as I’m getting ready to go home, saying, ‘I want to pay this much and I don’t care what it is.’ I’m like, ‘OK, gotcha.’"

David Sanderson writes about Winnipeg-centric businesses and restaurants.

david.sanderson@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by David Sanderson.

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