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From the Corporate World to Retail: The Story of Culture Athletics, which has Relocated its Storefront in Toronto’s Leslieville [Interview]

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For years, Nigel Fick was a fixture in the corporate world.

But about five years ago Fick decided to follow his passion, starting a new business in Toronto – Culture Athletics, an apparel and fitness boutique that focuses on specialty footwear, apparel and accessories for running and yoga.

Nigel Fick

The brand opened a new location recently in the heart of Toronto’s East End in the Leslieville neighbourhood along Queen Street and Carlaw Avenue.

Fick operates the store with his wife Sarah Deas.

“Culture really started as a passion project of mine back in 2017 where I was in the corporate world before this. I was in advertising and made my way over to marketing. I was doing digital marketing at American Express for quite a few years and was actively pursuing a midlife crisis,” quipped Fick.

Culture Athletics at 972 Queen St E (Image: Dustin Fuhs / Retail Insider)

The job was great with one of the top companies in the world. But something was missing.

“Every day I would just get a little bit more depressed and every Sunday I would just have this kind of wave of existential crisis. What am I doing? I did some self searching,” said Fick. “I set a goal for myself at a young age where by the time I’m 30 I’m either going to make X amount of money and I’m going to sell out and it’s going to be worth it or I’m going to actively look into following a life of passion and finding fulfillment in what I do. 

“I was 28 at the time. So I started doing a lot of math to see whether I could hit the dollar value by the time I was 30. If everything lined up . . . technically I could do it but I kind of had a realization that if I’m putting all this work into trying to justify something I don’t want to do then maybe I should actually look into the same amount of work to see if there is something that I would want to do that would be a financially responsible decision to make.”

He said he had his ‘aha’ moment during a presentation on himself. In the presentation, it asked the question: what did you want to do as a kid when you grew up? 

Culture Athletics at 972 Queen St E (Image: Dustin Fuhs / Retail Insider)

“I wanted to move to Hawaii and open a surf shop. That was always the dream,” said Fick.

The presentation also asked what would you do if you won the lottery?

“That’s easy. I’d quit AmEx, I’d move to Hawaii and I’d open a surf shop.” That got him thinking and he started taking business courses while working at the corporate giant.

The first Culture Athletics store was opened in July 2018 at Queen Street and Jones Avenue about a kilometre east of its current location. 

Former location at 1175 Queen St East (Image: Culture Athletics)

The retailer’s new store is just under 1,400 square feet. While the retailer has only the one location at this time, there could be expansion plans in the future as well as a stronger online presence.

Fick, who is a very avid runner, said Culture Athletics was founded on the principle that athletic culture is a uniting force between individuals. 

“We are what I like to call non-traditional running, yoga specialty. We focus on three pillars. Performance run, studio and that includes yoga, and active living. We’ve got gym apparel in there, athleisure,” said Fick. “Our pillar is those three pillars and community. We do a ton of community engagement.

Culture Athletics at 972 Queen St E (Image: Dustin Fuhs / Retail Insider)

“We’ve really tried to not only service the Toronto running and fitness community but to actively participate in it and enrich it, help build it and help make it into something a little bit more meaningful for people. We offer a ton of weekly free programming and paid programming plus we do a bunch of partnerships with local run clubs and other athletic facilities in the city.

“Our new flagship is in a heritage building. It was the Leslieville Hotel built in the late 1800s. We did a tour talking about the historical significance of the building and of the neighbourhood as a whole. And then we ran along Queen Street . . . and stopped at about six or seven stops along the way, really introducing people to the neighbourhood that they’re in and all the stuff you kind of pass by on a daily basis and really don’t understand or appreciate. A lot of it has been there for 150 years.”

Fick said the retailer has created a lot of momentum, setting the stage for expansion.

“But I think for us our focus for growth is more going to be online sales, anchoring our brand in Toronto east and staying true to our DNA, our meaningful community events, but grow scale through online business nationally.”

Additional Photos from Culture Athletics on Queen Street E

Culture Athletics at 972 Queen St E (Image: Dustin Fuhs / Retail Insider)
Culture Athletics at 972 Queen St E (Image: Dustin Fuhs / Retail Insider)
Culture Athletics at 972 Queen St E (Image: Dustin Fuhs / Retail Insider)
Culture Athletics at 972 Queen St E (Image: Dustin Fuhs / Retail Insider)
Culture Athletics at 972 Queen St E (Image: Dustin Fuhs / Retail Insider)
Culture Athletics at 972 Queen St E (Image: Dustin Fuhs / Retail Insider)
Culture Athletics at 972 Queen St E (Image: Dustin Fuhs / Retail Insider)
Culture Athletics at 972 Queen St E (Image: Dustin Fuhs / Retail Insider)

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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