Mortimer Snodgrass, the quirky gift-and-gadget boutique, marks its 10th anniversary this year. I recently chatted with co-founder Virginia Champoux in their new mega store location (@ 56 Notre-Dame W. in Old Montreal) about the store’s history, a few of her fave items, and their preparations for the 10th “Snodversary” celebrations, including an in-store and online contest on (enter before Oct 31 on Facebook & Twitter) where you could win one of five amazing prizes!
The first thing you notice in upon entering the new mega store is the bright orange floor. The effect is striking, especially paired with the exposed brick walls and 30-foot ceilings. It’s a far cry from Mortimer Snodgrass’s first shop, a tiny 500 square-foot storefront, opened in NDG’s Monkland Village in 2001.
Once you’re in the store, your eye jumps from one colourful product to the next. This place truly has something for everyone. Mortimer Snodgrass’s formula is simple: pick products that are unique, useful and unusual. The founders stock nothing they would not want to buy for themselves or a friend.
This place is a one-stop shop for hostess gifts (try Tipsy Toes, $8, shoe-shaped ice cubes that won’t dilute your drink), bridal showers (Diamond ring measuring spoons, $17), baby showers (adorable hippo hooded towel, $37), man-gifts (Spudski ski-pole potato masher, $20) and stocking stuffers galore. For the chef in your life, try the Marshall Green Rastaman potato masher ($14). For the techie? The iBend ($4), a plastic stand that allows you to stand your iPhone/Pod/Pad upright. They sell cards, balloons and wrap gifts, too.
All items are carefully sourced by Champoux, along with co-founder Jay Sokoloff and manager Danielle. “We try to avoid anything too cheesy, too tacky, or over the line,” Champoux said, pointing to the suggestive Muscle Man wine opener ($22) as an example of an item that borders on the overly risqué. Exclusivity is also essential to maintaining store cachet. “Often we’ll be six months ahead of a trend. Once an item is everywhere, that’s it – we’ll stop carrying it.”
A product has to be approved by two out of the three (Champoux, Jay or Danielle). “Usually either Jay and I agree, or Danielle and I. But sometimes they team up against me. Farts: A Spotter’s Guide ($17.95, “battery powered fart machine” included) is their pick, I had nothing to do with that!” Champoux said, laughing. “It’s really popular with men. We can barely keep it in stock! I’m embarrassed to say that it’s our best-selling book.” Mortimer Snodgrass also stocks plenty of non-fart related books for grown-ups and kids, such as The Field Guide to the North American Bird, a handy guide to help you flip off with skill and style ($12.95) and the hit book Go the F**K to Sleep ($16.95) for the little one who always wants “just one more” story.
My favourite item? The Vapur collapsible water bottle ($15.75). If, like me, you sometimes guiltily buy a disposable water bottle because you want to avoid toting a bulky bottle all day, the Vapur is for you. It stands straight when filled with water and rolls up/lays flat when empty, tucking into the tiniest of purses. It comes in a variety of colours and designs, and is dishwasher-safe, too. Genius! I’m thinking of making it my go-to Christmas present this year.
And, in case you can’t make it into the shop yourself, Mortimer Snodgrass has a booming online store. Unlike many retailers, Mortimer Snodgrass ships worldwide and accepts Paypal. “Hungary, Nepal, Japan, you name it,” she told me, “we’ve sent products over the world. Some companies don’t want to deal with the hassle of customs forms and postage, but it doesn’t bother me. We’ll mail to any place that has postal service.”
Mortimer Snodgrass’s widespread clientele can have surprising results. Once someone from Igloolik, Nunavut, ordered Cool Shooters ($12), one of the store’s all-time bestsellers. Cool Shooters freezes ice in the shape of a shot-glass – perhaps an unusual order from someone living in one of the coldest regions in Canada. “The woman said she wanted her inside décor to match the weather outside. We thought it was so hilarious we sent her one for free.”
Oh, and what about the shop’s name? After discovering their first choice was already taken, they settled on Mortimer Snodgrass, named after their newly adopted pup from the SPCA. Mortimer-the-dog still drops in to the shop from time to time. After 10 years, people still mistake the boutique for pet store. But luckily, those who go to Mortimer Snodgrass in search of dog toys and accessories won’t be disappointed – they’ve got plenty of pet stuff, too.
So, Happy 10th Birthday Mortimer Snodgrass! May you have many, many more!
Mortimer Snodgrass @ 56 Notre-Dame W. is open 7 days a week, most days from 10am-6pm (till 9pm on Thursday and Friday, open at 11am on Sunday)
~ Heidi Craig