Kitchener-Waterloo

Open Sesame's new 3-year lease helps local artists, shop owner says

Open Sesame shop founder Lauren Weinberg says she's very excited about a staff report that recommends the City of Kitchener signs a three-year lease agreement for the retail space she rents at city hall, because it will provide stability and they'll be able to plan future events and exhibitions.

'I am really excited about ... having that stability,' Kitchener shop founder Lauren Weinberg says

Open Sesame's founder Lauren Weinberg, left, is joined by Candy Young, centre, who is a local musician and books musical guests at the store and local artists and Open Sesame's curator, Sarah Kernohan. Weinberg leases a retail space beside Carl Zehr Square at Kitchener City Hall and staff are recommending signing a three-year lease with Weinberg. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

The Open Sesame store in Carl Zehr Square at Kitchener City Hall isn't just a spot to pick up an interesting gift or book – it's also a hub to discover a community of local artists and designers, owner Lauren Weinberg says.

The store opened in Oct. 2015 and if a staff report gets approved by the city's finance and corporate services committee and then council, Weinberg will sign a three-year lease for the city-owned retail space.

"I was hoping for the best and I am really excited about the prospect of having that stability of a three-year lease because we can plan so much further in advance, which is crucial for the quality of our exhibitions and the other programs that we're doing," Weinberg said.
Open Sesame is located in a retail space just off Carl Zehr Square at Kitchener City Hall. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Two restaurants also vied for space

This past fall, city staff opened up the space, which previously housed a Carbon Computing shop, for proposals. There were seven people who expressed interest, but just three proposals were received by the Oct. 3 deadline.

The proposals included Open Sesame, R-Chyees Frozen Yogurt and the fast food restaurant Freshii.

Staff said the proposals were rated on four criteria:

  • Proposed use and compatibility.
  • Demonstrated understanding and approach.
  • Operational Capability.
  • Revenue to the City.

Staff are recommending a three-year lease for Open Sesame with the option to renew for an additional two years. It must first be passed by the finance committee on Monday before going before council.

Market for local products

Weinberg came to Kitchener two and a half years ago from Chicago and as she was buying things for her home, she was looking for unique, local items.

"I was meeting so many people here who were artists and who interested in design and I thought there would be a market for these kinds of products," she said.

We can plan so much further in advance, which is crucial for the quality of our exhibitions and the other programs that we're doing.- Lauren Weinberg, Open Sesame's founder

The shop sells a variety of items, from art and housewares to zines, books and Kitchener-centric items. 

"Open Sesame is trying to be an anti-racist, anti-sexist inclusive space and I'm always looking for items – especially books and publications – that support that mission," Weinberg said. 
Open Sesame sells items from local artists and designers. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Support artists, encourage collectors

The space is also used for events and exhibits.

Sarah Kernohan, Open Sesame's curator, tries to feature artists from the region and surrounding areas.

"We're trying to support artists who are working professionally to have their work shown here, but also hoping to encourage a collecting audience in the region as well, so hoping to get people to bring the works into their homes," Kernohan said.

There is no artist-run centre in Kitchener, which can help emerging artists promote and sell their work.

Kernohan said CAFKA (Contemporary Art Forum Kitchener and Area) does a great job of supporting local artists, but they can't always support two-dimensional artists, "which is what we have a capacity to do here, so I think we fill a gap that way."

People are happy to come to K-W from Toronto, London and other areas for events, Weinberg has found.

She noted a recent book reading by Erin Wunker, author of a collection of essays called Notes from a Feminist Killjoy, packed their space.

"We're kind of finding our niche in the literary scene here and I'm hoping that we'll have a lot more events like that … hopefully in the three years to come," Weinberg said.

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