Lacey Ball on being too busy for downtime, helping the downtown and being down with Walmart
Lunch with Roderick Benns: Conversations with interesting people in Kawartha Lakes
It’s hard to get Lacey Ball to talk about anything other than work. Maybe that’s the price she pays though for running two popular businesses in downtown Lindsay — free time to think about anything else, other than family, is at a premium.
Ball, 35, owns and operates Olde Mill Candle Co. and Olde Mill Home, the latter of which just relocated a few metres away to take over the corner position at Kent and Cambridge streets where Boiling Over’s Coffee Vault used to be. The business used to be called Olde Mill Primitives but Ball saw an opportunity for a subtle rebrand to leave no doubt what her flagship store was all about.
On one of the hottest days in late summer we’re on the Olympia’s patio. For a change, I forego green tea for iced tea and lemon. Ball swears by the restaurant’s coffee and the beating sun won’t change her mind. She’s content with beverages but I suggest I can’t write a “Lunch With” column with no food consumed, so she orders a plate of Greek feta fries. It’s a Greek salad with chicken breast for me.
Her family moved to Kawartha Lakes from Peterborough when she was in Grade 4, and she attended Fenelon Township Public School in Cameron.
“This is a great community,” she says, and I take that to mean both Lindsay and the other small villages in the city. “I consider it my hometown.”
Ball and her partner and kids live in Bethany where they take full advantage of nearby trails and recreational opportunities.
We agreed that people on social media tend to put too much emphasis on what they see as shortcomings in our communities.
“Every town has its problems. The city does a good job in keeping things clean, which I appreciate. And (Lindsay’s) downtown is really looking amazing.”
Ball knew her path was retail-focused early on. Soon after graduating high school at I.E. Weldon, she got her start with Southern Comfort a Lindsay business focused on fireplaces and furniture.
“I really enjoyed it there — and I realized that was my path,” she says, of retail in general.
Ball, who I have only seen stylishly attired, comes across as unfailingly even-tempered and kind — certainly a great fit for a life in retail.
She worked at Southern Comfort for three years. She got married and started a family; her two boys are now 14 and 11.
It was when her eldest started kindergarten that she realized she finally had a bit of free time to start doing something that interested her. That’s when she began making decorative arrangements at home, such as home décor accents.
A spark was lit.
“I put it out there on Facebook and it took off,” says Ball.
The work was keeping her as busy as she wanted to be. “It was still very low key because I only had so much time back then,” she says.
But soon she would open her first little shop — near Oakwood — and start finding suppliers “because I couldn’t make everything by myself.”
This was about 10 years ago when primitive country, farmhouse décor was very popular . It’s a decorating style that incorporates elements such as folk art, earthy colours, simple lines and rough-hewn textures to simulate the look of an older time. It uses new material to create an antique atmosphere.
Ball did her thing “from a little 300 square foot hole-in-the-wall outside of Oakwood,” she says, where she was only open two days a week.
Then she more than doubled the size of the store in a new location in Omemee and featured more supplier help.
“The way it worked out, though, Omemee was a pass-through town for a business like mine,” Ball says. With people driving on their way to Peterborough or farther east, they were less likely to stop and shop for home décor, unlike, say, a café where they someone might pull over for a bite to eat.
When the Cambridge Street location came up near The Pie Eyed Monk she jumped at the opportunity.
She was there for more than five years and made it work, “but we still had people years later come in and say, ‘Oh, you’re new here.’”
From that tiny spot that started out in Oakwood years ago she started amassing a regular clientele that has been following her ever since.
“It’s amazing to still have that base of followers from the original store,” she says.
It was about six weeks after the first lockdown in 2020 that her separate business, Olde Mill Candle, opened at 104 Kent St. W.
(I have had at least 10 Olde Mill Candle products in my home; I appreciate how most are Ontario-made, they don’t trigger anyone’s allergies and they last just shy of forever.)
Taking over this store just before the lockdown while also operating Olde Mill Primitive, as it was known at the time, was a trying time for Ball — especially on top of her home life.
“My children’s’ mental health was the top priority then,” she says, and she decided to keep the boys at home for two full years over the course of the pandemic, rather than have them go back and forth if schools opened and then closed. “What impact will this pandemic have on them? I think they’ll get there but you still feel for them — they sacrificed a lot.”
As an entrepreneur, she was heartened that people wanted to support local businesses like hers. “But by end of year two we were all so fatigued by it,” she says, noting the overhead on her locations was difficult to manage.
She appreciates that her staff were largely taken care of by government grants, “but over the long term for business owners it was hard.”
Ball is a big believer that Walmart setting up in Lindsay will benefit the area. “It’s even going to help us here in the downtown because at least the shoppers will stay in town then — otherwise they’ll head to Peterborough anyway. Them leaving town won’t help us,” she says.
The business owner notes how difficult the staff shortage issue is for most businesses — she’s feeling the pinch of having less staff than desired, too — adding that it plays a role in arresting development in downtowns.
“For instance, the demand is there for more patios in downtown Lindsay,” she says, “but there’s not enough staff.”
She says it’s frustrating to see the unfulfilled potential. “We really do need to figure out how to make the downtown a full experience. The food is fantastic and we should be encouraging people to spend the day here.”
*This story was written before Olde Mill Candle Co. merged with Olde Mill Home.