When Ungava Duvet first opened its doors 29 years ago, St. Laurent wasn’t the clubbing hotspot that it is today. Desiree Archer, the co-owner of the linens (among other things) store at the corner of St. Laurent and Pins, remembers those days: “I’m sad to see a lot of family stores go – clothing stores and grocery stores… It’s more trendy now.” Ungava Duvet, however, is not one of those family stores that has been relegated to the past tense – it is alive and vibrant.
Still, some things have changed with time. The development of St. Laurent as a street, and the Plateau as a neighbourhood, has led Ungava Duvet to cater to a different demographic. “We get more younger people now, but the loss of the old clothing, fabric, and grocery stores means that our older clientele no longer frequent this area.” She added that many of these new customers are McGill students just moving into new apartments or residences in the fall. This has also led to a change in the types of products they stock. “For students, we bring in new lines of sheeting and bedding.”
The client base is not the only thing that has changed for Ungava Duvet in the past 29 years. “Originally we made every item we sold on the premises. Every futon, every sheet, every duvet,” asserted Archer proudly. While this level of production is no longer feasible, the store still makes its own duvets, and sells Montreal-made futons. Maintaining this kind of local supply chain not only supports jobs in the community and in Montreal, but also allows the kind of low pricing to which Ungava Duvet has attributed its success and longevity. “This isn’t a cute little boutique,” said Archer, noting the price that goes along with that image. Some browsing confirms that yes, that queen sized goose feather duvet is really 69 dollars, and yes, there are bins filled with pillowcases, sheets, and other knickknacks that go for a mere five dollars.
The price and emphasis on quality may be factors in what keeps patrons returning to Ungava Duvet, but to attribute their success to dollars saved on a rug, or years a sheet set can endure, would be an oversimplification – and an oversight. The draw to Ungava Duvet is not entirely tangible. It’s something about how the lampshades, bedspreads, and curtains splash colour around the store, how the brandless cushiony pillows crammed into wooden shelving look so fresh and crisp. It’s the feeling that this store doesn’t quite belong on the corner of Pins and St. Laurent, best defined to most students by its proximity to Tokyo and Toonie Chow. It’s how much it doesn’t look like the bedding section at Ikea or your local Home Sense.
The atmosphere at Ungava Duvet is light and friendly – much of which has to do with Archer herself. “We really enjoy what we sell,” she told me, before noticing my runny nose and offering a tissue. “See? We have everything!” she joked. Balancing customer requests deftly with this interview, she was eager to share her knowledge of the area and the history behind the store. The sort of pleasant conversation Archer offers is something rarely achieved in a commercial environment. Ungava Duvet seems almost to have its own personality, a rare feat among larger, chain stores and a sure factor in its volume of returning customers.