Rideau Spotlight: Imaginaire Ottawa
December 18, 2023
The holiday season is in full swing here in Ottawa’s Original Downtown, and shoppers from across the Nation’s Capital are flocking to the CF Rideau Centre. With roughly 180 retailers making their home in the mall, there’s plenty of options for shoppers to choose from.
Hobbyists, collectors and shoppers of all kinds were in for a massive treat earlier this year when Imaginaire Ottawa officially opened its doors. Setting foot inside the store is an experience all unto itself with its colourful décor and its wall-to-wall inventory of toys, board games, manga and other collectibles that’s almost overwhelming from its sheer abundance. Patrons who pay the store a visit are certain to either find something relevant to their own hobbies or discover a new passion they didn’t realize they had!
The store, which occupies two storeys of the Rideau Centre and serves as a massive celebration of all things related to “geek culture,” stems from a vision shared by shop owner Dave Doyon and his brother Anthony. Theirs is a story of familial passion for the art of collecting and a desire to turn that passion into a thriving nationwide empire of stores that reflect their family’s love of all things geeky.
From a Sushi Counter to a Two-Storey Megastore
The history of Imaginaire begins with Dave’s grandmother and her affinity for stamp collecting. As Dave explains, stamps and coins were the item of choice for most collectors back in the 1960s, and this experience was a foundational component of his father Benoit’s eventual journey into exploring collecting as a business model.
“You could basically say he was born into it,” Dave says.
Benoit Doyon would eventually open the first Imaginaire after acquiring the Comptoir Timbre et Monnaies located at Place Laurier in Québec City forty years ago. At the time, the business merely occupied a couple hundred square feet and was, as Dave puts it, “not much bigger than a sushi counter.” But in the years since, Imaginaire has continually expanded its flagship store to encompass thousands of square feet of floor space and now includes sections dedicated to trading cards, comic books, board games and more.
Benoit sold the business to his sons Dave and Anthony in 2016, and their ambition was to have the store expand to several locations throughout the province of Québec. They wasted no time, opening a second location in Sherbrooke and a new location every year thereafter until the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. This stymied Imaginaire’s expansion efforts for a short while until they resumed with the opening of their Laval location in 2022 and, most recently, their store in the Rideau Centre that opened this October.
Thus, the store’s Ottawa location marks Imaginaire’s first expansion beyond the borders of Québec, and according to Dave, the reception so far has been wholly positive. “We’ve been really impressed with the warm welcome here,” he says, recounting an interaction he had earlier that day with a customer visiting Ottawa from Poland. The customer was looking to purchase a Canadian coin as a memento of their visit.
Newcomers and Veterans…All Are Welcome!
The impressive success of Imaginaire thus far is largely thanks to a business model that allows the store to cater to the needs and wants of anyone that passes through their front doors. Regardless of whether a customer is hoping to casually browse the store’s wares or is a devoted enthusiast of any kind, Imaginaire prides themselves on having the people and the resources to facilitate an enjoyable shopping experience for everyone.
Customers belonging to either group will immediately be taken in by the bright and colourful décor that covers every square inch of the store; a massive Pikachu head hangs from the ceiling of the fourth floor and acts as the store’s pièce de resistance. The décor provides a welcoming atmosphere to young children as well as first-time visitors who may be unfamiliar with hobby stores, many of which don’t go to the same great lengths to create such a visually engaging store layout.
“Most hobby stores are kind of ‘closed market,’” Dave explains. “My girlfriend, for example – she could never go to a Magic the Gathering store just to get started. I think one of our greater strengths is [our ability] to open the hobby to anybody who passes by, and if we can convert even one customer out of every 100, that’s super good.”
Offering a welcome environment for newcomers is essential to ensuring the success of a business like Imaginaire, as more and more people have discovered new hobbies for themselves in the wake of the pandemic. Imaginaire manages to meet its customers’ needs thanks its highly diversified inventory of products that cater to the interests of almost any and all customers, including toys, trading cards, jigsaw puzzles, board games, figurines and comic books, just to name a few.
The Art of Collecting
None of this is to say that Imaginaire is improperly equipped to serve devotees and enthusiasts, however. While the store is extremely welcoming of newcomers, it is equally adept at serving customers who have a longstanding, passionate admiration for their hobby.
Today, the franchise sports a vast network of hundreds of employees that are either subject matter experts in a variety of hobbies or are receiving training to advance their knowledge of their hobby to an expert level. Collectors can submit inquiries and pictures to firstname.lastname@example.org and have any given piece appraised by an expert before trading and/or selling it. This protects both the store and the collectors from acquiring fake items.
What’s more, the store prides itself on carrying full catalogues of items related to all the hobbies in the store so as to ensure that collectors can find the exact piece they’re looking for when completing a collection. “More often than not, anything we can have in the store, we have it,” Dave asserts. “Otherwise, with seven locations, if we don’t have it here, it’s probably somewhere else, and we can always make deliveries within 48 hours.”
Looking Towards the Future
To get even more people into the store and create opportunities for hobbyists to congregate and socialize, Imaginaire also has plans to release an event calendar in January that will be filled with workshops and activities that are relevant to various hobbies. These will include workshops on how to paint and assemble your first Gundam model, how to play Pokémon and events for Magic the Gathering, Warhammer, Yu-Gi-Oh and more. Dave’s employees have also suggested potential future events and he is always happy to hear ideas for events from customers.
He also anticipates that the continuing upward trend of so-called “geek culture’s” popularity will continue to fuel his business’s viability and success. “Back in the 80s, when I used to play D&D as a kid, it was a ‘nerd game.’ You were not cool and you were not invited to parties. Now there’s a video online of Vin Diesel playing D&D!”
“It’s a good thing for the market in general,” he concludes. “And as long as you’re playing something you like and you’re having fun, that’s what we’re here for.”
📍 50 Rideau Street, 3rd floor
⏰ Monday – Thursday, Saturday: 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.
⏰ Friday: 8 a.m. – 9 p.m.
⏰ Sunday: 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
📞 (613) 903-5849