Market ready for business

By Michael-Allan Marion, Brantford Expositor

OAKHILL — Co-founders Joann Sangster and Karl Bicz have used ingenuity, business acumen, creativity and good old-fashioned hard work to turn an empty building in disrepair into a grassroots artistic and retailing concept called the Oakhill Urban Market.

Passersby have long been accustomed to seeing a succession of departed businesses in the building at 649 Colborne St. West. For years it was a John Deere farm machinery sales and service outlet. After that, it was R G Warehouse, which sold used office furniture.

Then the building fell into disrepair, became vacant and the roof leaked in several places.

Bicz bought the property in 2015 and started to fix it up while considering ideas for its reuse.

He met up with Sangster who liked organizing events that attract young businesses and artists at the same time as she ran her own business, Soy Savvy, a company that that sells soy candles, wax melts and bath bombs.

Together they worked on a concept to offer an enclosed, but open market where artists and other entrepreneurs would have spaces to sell their creations, but there would be one cashier position to serve all.

Sangster took the prime spot to open Soy Savvy’s at the front of the building in April with the two talking about what to do with about 7,000 square feet that Bicz had created.

“I wanted a market that was a one-stop gift shop and this is it,” Sangster said on opening day, Thursday, as she stood in the centre of the first phase of the developing enterprise.

“We put this together in eight weeks.”

Each vendor has an individual retail space - or “boutique” - with little overhead. The first of three phases has 34 units, with plans to take the total to 84. There’s an online application process. Check the website at

The people who come in here, it’s not just a hobby. They’re hard-core entrepreneurs. They sleep, eat and breathe their business,” said Sangster.

“When you visit an independent local business, you keep more money in your local economy, you celebrate the uniqueness of your community, you support local jobs, you help the environment, and you make this community a destination.”

Melissa Sandy, who sells Avon products, has 2,000 followers on social media.

In another spot, Fred Kimber is selling his wood products as Vintage Furniture Reproduction Company. He acquires old furniture and scrap wood at construction sites and repurposes it.

“I’ve been working with wood since I was a kid,” Kimber said.

Farther down the way, artist Shelby Miller runs MNCHLD – that’s Moonchild without the vowels.

Her space offers an eclectic assortment of mini-artworks done in watercolours and acrylic.

"When I was in university I could not afford a lot of fine art or nice things to decorate my apartment as well as to support the arts," Miller said.

"So with my work I wanted to make sure the prices were affordable and accessible to those who like it.

She also likes the concept of the urban market.

“I got to a lot of art shows. They are one night or only a weekend. You meet people but there isn’t time to forge a relationship. Here we are close all the time and working together, and I can be more accessible to the public as an artist.

“This is going to be good for me.”

Oakhill Urban Market is open year-round Thursday to Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 6 pm., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.