Wallack’s nine-decade-old art stores find new life

Wallack’s move is set to happen this month, but it turned out to be better than owner Michael Wallack could have expected.

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When Michael Wallack learned almost a year ago that his companies, Wallack Galleries and Wallack’s Art Supplies and Framing, would have to leave the Bank Street space they had called home for five decades, he was shocked.

Wallack, the third-generation owner of two businesses Ottawans have frequented since his grandfather opened Wallack’s Art Gallery in the mid-1930s, had already dealt with the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, constantly pivoting to keep Wallack viable.

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“I was recovering from extreme exhaustion, working six to seven days a week,” recalls Wallack, a 36-year-old who took over the family business in 2016. Then came the news that the store’s historic building , and in fact, its entire block would be redeveloped by Smart Living Properties, which plans to build a nine-story apartment building.

“Finding out we had to move was a shock to me,” he says. “It was like spraining your ankle while playing sports and being told you had to keep playing.”

Wallack’s move will come this month, but it turned out to be better than Wallack could have expected.

Michael Wallack, third-generation owner of Wallack's Art Supplies & Framing, gave this newspaper a tour of the current store and gallery space, as well as the former Foster's Sports Center they are taking over as their new space.  Wallack was photographed in the new space, Sunday, March 3, 2024.
Michael Wallack, third-generation owner of Wallack’s Art Supplies & Framing, gave this newspaper a tour of the current store and gallery space, as well as the former Foster’s Sports Center they are taking over as their new space. Wallack was photographed in the new space, Sunday, March 3, 2024. Photo by Ashley Fraser /postmedia

In a turnaround of sorts for Centretown, Wallack managed to relocate his 12,000-square-foot business just three blocks south on Bank Street, into another heritage building, vacated by Foster’s Sports Centre, which was Ottawa’s oldest bike shop. , closed in early January.

The owner of Foster’s will be the new owner of Wallack. And there’s one more aspect to this confusion, one that speaks to the resilience of Centretown’s business landscape in the face of pandemic-induced pressures. The business and shares of Foster’s were purchased by Hintonburg bicycle shop Quick Cranks, which this week will host the grand opening of its second store, on Cooper Street near Bank Street.

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Wallack, a Centretown resident who lives less than a 10-minute walk from work and is president of the Centretown BIA, is glad his neighborhood still has a bike shop, thanks to Quick Cranks. He is also optimistic about the business prospects of his neighborhood, despite the numerous empty spaces along Bank Street.

Foster's Sports Center at 305 Bank St. closed and Wallack's Art Supplies & Framing announced they are moving into the space.
Foster’s Sports Center at 305 Bank St. closed and Wallack’s Art Supplies & Framing announced they are moving into the space. Photo by Ashley Fraser /postmedia

Because of the pandemic, Wallack had already put all his energy into transforming his business. “We really had to make a transition,” he says. With the first COVID-19 lockdown, Wallack began to compete directly with Amazon. Thanks to a big bet on social media advertising and quickly filled orders for customers hunkering down and indulging in their artistic hobbies, sales increased tenfold, Wallack says.

“It was like a beautiful success story,” he says, before adding that his expenses also increased exponentially. “It was ten times as much work for nothing,” she says.

It was soon obvious to Wallack that remote work would be the new normal and that people working from home during the pandemic would not be returning to downtown Ottawa. When he received notification last year that his store would have to move, he said he considered all the options and asked staff to think about what their ideal Wallack’s store would be.

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The data Wallack’s had collected on its customers showed that, while they were spread from one end of Ottawa to the other, the greatest concentration of customers surrounded the Bank Street location. It didn’t make sense for Wallack’s to move to, say, Kanata or Orléans, because the move could alienate customers who would have much longer commutes as a result, Wallack says.

The second floor of the new space.
The second floor of the new space. Photo by Ashley Fraser /postmedia

Wallack considered moving to the other side of Bank Street, to the spaces that stores like Comic Book Shoppe and Venus Envy called home, which sat empty after a fire in April 2022. But that relocation, he says, “didn’t really fit at all.” with the vision he had for the company.”

He mulled it over and then thought better of moving into the Cooper Street space eventually acquired by Quick Cranks, which had been the home of Pat Flesher Furs until that veteran Ottawa business, started in 1929, closed in 2021.

Finally, the possibility of moving into Foster’s space arose. His owner was considering retiring. An agreement was reached and Wallack is looking forward to this third version of his family business.

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Wallack’s grandfather, Samuel Wallack, opened the business at 192-194 Bank St. in the 1930s and his father, John, moved it to 231 Bank St. in 1973. In a few weeks, Michael Wallack will move Wallack’s to 305 Bank St.

Michael Wallack
Michael Wallack, third-generation owner of Wallack’s Art Supplies & Framing, gave this newspaper a tour of the current store and gallery space, as well as the former Foster’s Sports Center they are taking over as their new space. In the basement of the current location, Michael showed this newspaper the art collection that is stored in an area, on Sunday, March 3, 2024. Photo by Ashley Fraser /postmedia

Foster’s space is a little smaller than the space Wallack is leaving. But Wallack says he can make better use of Foster’s space because it’s so open. He also raves about its heritage character and the little details that allude to the building’s history before it became Foster’s.

Interestingly, Foster’s leaves behind air hoses and compressors that once inflated bicycle tires and which will be useful to Wallack’s designers.

Wallack just completed a long period of seven-day work weeks in preparation for the move. He says 60 percent of the work has been done, but the physical move remains.

Far from the initial shock he felt, he is now excited.

“It’s amazing to see a company survive and move forward,” says Wallack.

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The beginning of the transition of the former bike shop has begun.
The beginning of the transition of the former bike shop has begun. Photo by Ashley Fraser /postmedia
A sign in Wallack's window on Sunday, March 3, 2024.
A sign in Wallack’s window on Sunday, March 3, 2024. Photo by Ashley Fraser /postmedia
Michael Wallack, third-generation owner of Wallack's Art Supplies & Framing, gave this newspaper a tour of the current store and gallery space, as well as the former Foster's Sports Center they are taking over as their new space.  Wallack was photographed in the new space, Sunday, March 3, 2024.
Michael Wallack, third-generation owner of Wallack’s Art Supplies & Framing, gave this newspaper a tour of the current store and gallery space, as well as the former Foster’s Sports Center they are taking over as their new space. Wallack was photographed in the new space, Sunday, March 3, 2024. Photo by Ashley Fraser /postmedia
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