Anyone who has ever had the urge to own a drum set converted to set of lamps, an antique bicycle rickshaw or fresh works by local artists can pretty much count on finding them at a market near Nanaimo’s Old City Quarter.
At Old City Panache Collectors’ and Artisans’ Market on Prideaux Street, vendors are called ‘booths people’ and they offer a seemingly unlimited variety of antiques, art, repurposed items, furniture, clothing, preserves and, yes, there really is an antique bike rickshaw and a drum set converted to decorative interior lighting to be found among the market’s eclectic inventory of at least 10,000 collectibles and curiosities.
“It just keeps going endlessly. People come in here and they get lost and they love it,” said Fraser Archibald, a booth person who sells usable collectibles at one of 50 booths at the market.
The market, he said, draws upon older clientèle looking for items that spur memories from their younger years, but also an influx of younger customers.
“We have a lot of people our age and older who are coming in and they reminisce and they buy a little something just as a nostalgic item, but we’ve also got tons of young people coming in and they’re really glomming onto this whole ‘buy one object that has some character and some worth’ and build around it and there’s tons of young families now who live in the area and they’re some of our best customers.”
Along with collectibles from just about every 20th-century decade, there are locally created new items too, including painted panels by Nanaimo artist Grant Leier. Old City Panache has partnered with Gallery Merrick to carry Leier’s work.
The market evolved from a thrift store into a multi-vendor market that operated under the name Romantic Ruins for several years, but just as the COVID-19 pandemic was ramping up it came under new management. The business has been revitalized with a new name, fresh ideas and help from the booths people.
“The community around here has just been really amazing,” said Lynne Kellogg, the market’s assistant manager. “We opened during COVID – we just celebrated our one-year anniversary July 15 – and the amount of everybody contributing, helping, it’s amazing how everybody just came together and I’m so grateful to have that. It totally saved me during COVID … It’s a community.”
Old City Panache is modelled after European-style markets with as many independent vendors and variety of items as possible. Pricing, cleanliness and quality of products raise the market’s stature beyond that of a second-hand store or flea market and it’s the only business of its kind in Nanaimo.
Displays are continually updated by manager Michelle Fraser, former owner of Bocca Café on Fitzwilliam Street, and Richard Hucal, who, Kellogg said, have elevated the merchandising “to a sense of art.”
“They’ve really tried to keep it decorated, as opposed to just ‘a market’ and it really works well,” Archibald said.
Variety and continual change keep customers coming back as sales move stock, necessitating fresh displays created from the latest items brought in by the booths people. Dody Wilson and Laila Strain drive down from Parksville regularly to see what’s new.
“We come down about once a month to see what’s here,” Wilson said. “It’s constantly changing.”
The market has also expanded into a large back room to showcase furniture, including ornate dining room sets, and other large items.
“It really is an effort to keep it alive here and to make a little money and have some fun,” Archibald said.
Kellogg sees the market’s potential as a place for community-based activities once the pandemic is in the past.
“We’d like to, at some point, have events in here at night,” she said. “Like, do an antiques roadshow kind of thing – and we have fun with that because, one of our vendors, he’ll bring the weirdest things … and we all stand around and make our best guess. We have a lot of fun … it’s so interesting to learn the history of some of these things.”
For opening hours and other information, visit the market’s Facebook page at Old City Panache or on Instagram at @oldcitypanache.