Old church gets new life

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by Hilary Thomson

The new tenant of the old Methodist Church on the north side of the river in Merrickville has finally been revealed. Local business, Chaiya Decor, has been in the Village since 2015. A biologist and a zookeeper by trade, Carlos and Lisa Card opened the store in Merrickville as a second career. Their business, in a stone building at the south end of the Village’s main street, contains many unique glass and wood bowls, wood carvings, and beautiful hand-crafted wooden furniture, which they source mostly from India and Indonesia.

Carlos says that there was a steep learning curve to running the business and it has morphed quite organically over the years. At first, they thought they would mainly be selling a lot of their smaller items to tourists in the village, and selling some of their larger more expensive furniture on occasion. “We bought our first pieces of furniture because we thought they would look nice in the store,” Carlos says.

To their surprise, they sold the pieces of furniture quite quickly, and they had to make an emergency trip overseas in the first year to restock. Since then, Lisa says they have found that they have two distinct markets: the tourists and casual shoppers who like their smaller home decor items and the people who follow them specially for the beautifully-made furniture they bring from Asia.

Carlos and Lisa soon found that their space on St Lawrence Street wasn’t big enough to keep some of the larger furniture, and keep up with demand, so they started using their workshop in the old Grenville Castings building (where they put the finishing touches on a lot of the furniture) as a showroom. Lisa says the set up was not ideal, as the workshop is very industrial and not at all climate controlled.

One day they were having lunch at Uncle Fester’s Place when they ran into Gary Cowen, who owns the old Methodist Church. They got to talking and Gary said he was having trouble finding a buyer, or even a tenant, for the old building. When Carlos said he was interested, Gary jumped on the opportunity and told him if he and Lisa designed it, he would do the renovations.

And so, work began on the old church, piquing the interest of many who live in the Village. Carlos says they didn’t want to say anything too soon, in case something happened during the renovations which made the building unusable. Built in 1855 as a Methodist Church, the building was also briefly a dairy and more recently a carpenter’s workshop. That being said, it had still been sitting empty for around 30 years.

Thankfully, the engineer’s report came back stating that the building was structurally sound. A lot of work had to be done to clean it up to make it usable. All the wooden beams were rotted and had to be replaced, and they had to rebuild the upper floor and staircase. Lisa has been working with the contractor to make sure the renovated building is as historically accurate as possible.

Carlos and Lisa are very excited about the space that they will now have to showcase their furniture. They will also be using the white building that is on the same property as a workshop and warehouse. Their shop in the Village will remain open, but they are hoping that this new space will help them cater more effectively to their two separate markets. “We hope that, by having this giant beautiful space, we can kick it up to the next level,” Lisa says. “We’re going to be able to do each thing better.”

Carlos is hoping that the renovations will be finished and they will be all moved in by the end of April. They are planning to have an open house at some point for residents of the Village to come and see what they have done with the space. You can follow them on Facebook under Chaiya Decor to keep up with what they are doing and learn more about what this unique business has to offer.

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