WINDSOR, N.S. — Driving through downtown Windsor, it's hard to miss a mini school bus parked in a garden bed, advertising some fine ale.
It's turning heads and creating a buzz, and that's exactly what Cameron Hartley, the owner of Schoolhouse Brewery on Water Street, intended.
The hard-to-miss miniature yellow school bus is Hartley's way of drawing attention to the fact his business, which is nestled in behind Avonian Place on Water Street, still doesn't have road frontage signage due to what he feels to be antiquated laws.
“It’s not really a sign, and because it’s on wheels, it’s not really permanent. This is my somewhat quiet way of conforming to the current laws while I’m waiting for the town council to amend this (signage) bylaw,” said Hartley, looking out the window towards the little bus.
“Being an out of box thinker, I talked with the building owners. We have a garden by the road frontage and we have our little short bus that we love and is kind of part of our branding. After talking to a couple of people who are behind my cause, they have allowed me to park my bus by the road in the garden.”
Hartley moved his Falmouth-based business to Windsor in order to expand and see his vision come to life. He moved with the belief that he would be allowed to install a free-standing ground sign near the road. He included a clause in his lease agreement to allow for that option as the footings of the former car dealership sign are still visible.
Hartley approached the Town of Windsor last fall to ask permission to install a roadside sign that would advertise his business, which overlooks Lake Pisiquid. But Hartley's request didn't get the green light he anticipated. He was informed that it couldn't happen without applying to change the land use bylaw.
“The reason why they put that law in is because there are some pretty ugly free-standing back lit signs in this town. They wanted to put an end to that. That’s what I believe their intention was,” said Hartley.
But Hartley said that action was short-sighted as it prevented companies not only from properly promoting their businesses but from modernizing the free-standing signs.
“They weren’t thinking about their biggest asset — the waterfront,” said Hartley.
And the waterfront is prime real estate to have, he said.
“I think this location has tons of potential that has never really been capitalized on. Windsor’s got great features that other towns would kill for — like the waterfront."
— Cameron Hartley
“We’ve got waterfront right off the highway. We’re only like an hour away from the major centre in Nova Scotia. We’ve got some really neat historic buildings... For some reason, this area hasn’t been taken advantage of to its potential,” he said.
Hartley said he appreciates that policies are created for a reason, but he says some hinder business growth.
“This is clearly a barrier for a business in an area that you want to see flourish,” said Hartley, noting fast-tracking requests like the one he's proposed would serve to benefit the town in the long run.
Schoolhouse Brewery launched in 2013 in Falmouth, but didn't relocate to Windsor and expand until 2017. Eight full and part-time employees work at the location.
Hartley said the post-Christmas season is difficult for even the most seasoned businesses. Not being able to advertise properly compounds that situation.
“As a first-year business in rural Nova Scotia, it’s challenging no matter what,” said Hartley. “A first-year business going into the slowest part of the season is an extra challenge and doing that without road frontage signs to tell people where you are is another barrier.”
Windsor's chief administrative officer Louis Coutinho said the town has been working to help clear the hurdles.
“We had to make him jump through a few hoops,” said Coutinho in a phone interview.
Coutinho explained that the process Hartley is going through will serve to help other businesses that find themselves in a similar situation.
Hartley's request was reviewed at the planning advisory committee on Nov. 6, 2017.
The PAC's recommendation went before council on Nov. 28, 2017 for first reading. There is a public hearing on the sign amendment on Jan. 23. Afterwards, Coutinho says council will go to second reading. Should it pass, the amendment will be adopted.
“Once that amendment is made, it will allow the sign at 40 Water St. to go up but it will also allow businesses in the town centre and Pisiquid CDD area to apply for additional signage through a development agreement process,” said Coutinho.
“We had to go through this to be able to allow for exceptions.”
Hartley said he's hopeful there will be a resolution to the issue as soon as possible. In the meantime, his trusty bus will serve to draw in potential patrons.
“I’m fortunate in that we’ve devised an interim solution with the bus but we love that bus and we like driving it so we don’t want to keep it there forever,” he said.
Did you know?
• Schoolhouse Brewery is closed Mondays, open Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday from noon until 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from noon until 11 p.m.
• Schoolhouse Brewery, which employs eight full and part-time staff, features a 10-barrel copper brewhouse, tap room and patio, retail shop, and a small kitchen.
• The business' mission is to craft “uncompromising quality beers in an environmentally responsible way."
• On tap at the Windsor brewery pub is six Schoolhouse Brewery beers and two rotating guest taps that feature Nova Scotia beers. They also have one rotating cider on tap.
• A kitchen was opened at the Windsor location in November 2017. Everything served is produced in Nova Scotia. For example, the triple chocolate stout brownie features a locally-made brownie, TAN Coffee and Schoolhouse stout.
• For more info: http://schoolhousebrewery.ca