AMHERSTBURG — Richard Peddie studies a “Sputnik” light fixture that extends nearly two feet below the ceiling in the centre of his Amherstburg bookstore’s second-floor event space. “This has got to go,” the 73-year-old Canada’s Marketing Hall of Legends alumnus says.
He summons Lori Wightman, the store’s lead bookseller. “There’s the screen —” he points ahead to an area just before the fireplace — “we’ve got a camera here” — he points behind him — “and even sitting at the back, you won’t be able to see half the screen, so it’s coming down.” Wightman, who, until she started at River Bookshop earlier this year worked as the Amherstburg library’s resource assistant, peers up.
Peddie, who retired as president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment in 2011 after reportedly receiving an eight-figure golden handshake, launched River Bookshop, which he owns with his wife, Colleen, on August 14. He’s hardly a stranger to the world of sales and marketing — or of construction and design
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But never, during his lengthy career, has Peddie operated a bookstore, and there’s been a learning curve. “We were the rookies who went to the first book fair with all the publishers and we’re sitting there, and we looked at each other: ‘Should we get one book or two or
DiCarlo had wanted someone to run the Amherstburg Community Foundation (previously helmed by local politicians) who could help rebuild confidence in the community and “provide people with security and comfort,” he says. Peddie’s approach, which DiCarlo describes as “no one gets paid [on the board and administration], and 100 per cent of the funds raised go back to the community,” seemed like a good fit.
Since July 2019, the foundation has raised more than $230,000 to develop walking trails, a local playground, and youth programming at the Amherstburg Freedom Museum and to grow a fund to restore the Carnegie building that houses the library;
Ryan Gibson, a professor in regional economic development at the University of Guelph, notes that Peddie’s decision to get involved with the community is not unusual and that a number of people who have forged successful careers in cities then return later in life to help the smaller communities of their youth: in 2006, for example,
The challenge with such returns, he adds, is ensuring that there’s “a realistic match” in vision, particularly over the long term: “The bigger question that communities should be asking themselves when these opportunities come forward is how do the opportunities match long-term community
Adam Saifer, a postdoctoral fellow with the Canadian Philanthropy Partnership Research Network at the Université du Québec à Montréal, says that when a person with deep pockets decides to help a struggling community, there is potential for them to become a local “monarch.”
“Money begets power,” he explains. He, too, cites Shorefast as an example. “In the media, everybody portrays it as something that's fantastic,” he says. “But there are a lot of critiques. There are people that live on Fogo and feel that [the Cobbs have] come in and remade the town in their own image.”
That foundation, however, is private; community foundations, such as the one in Amherstburg, tend to offer “a more democratized approach,” he says.
Peddie has a “true passion” for Amherstburg, says town councillor Peter Courtney. While “some people think some of these ventures [undertaken by the foundation] should be just paid with taxpayers’ dollars,” he says, “it takes a village to make our town successful.” The foundation, DiCarlo adds, is surveying the community to get
Yet Peddie says he and his wife wanted to do more on their own for the town. “And the first thing we’ve come up with is this,” he says of the
He describes the store’s function as a “third place,” a term used to describe a social environment, but not a home or a workplace, in which people can exchange ideas — and socialize.
Upstairs, where the problematic light currently hangs, he will host regular discussion series on topics as varied as racial justice, sports, falconry, and urban planning.
Most of the speakers will appear remotely — that had been Peddie’s plan even before the pandemic because of Amherstburg’s distance from larger centres. Public-health measures limit the number of people they’ll be able to accommodate in the event space, but they’re working on plans to broadcast the events over Zoom too, he
Downstairs in the bookstore, trade is already
Peddie describes the bookstore
Wightman disagrees. It’s a philanthropic opportunity “so far,” she says.
Peddie grins. “So far.”
And, Peddie adds, he’s not done yet. “I’m prepared to invest more,” he says, although he won’t say in what. “If you're not investing in a town, it's eroding.” His goal, though — and the foundation’s and the mayor’s, too, he says — is to make Amherstburg “the best small town in Ontario.”
This is one in a series of stories about issues affecting southwestern Ontario. It's brought to you with the assistance of faculty and students from Western University’s Faculty of Information and Media Studies.
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