There’s no shortage of graphic designers and photographers in this city. But Chris and Grace Hughes are going about their business a little differently, taking walk-in clients from behind a counter at their combined retail, gallery, and design space in the north Annex. Welcome to A Nerd’s World (986 Bathurst St.).
Getting started: Opening A Nerd’s World was a rather spontaneous decision. “It wasn’t planned out at all,” says Chris. “We drove by one day and saw these beautiful stained-glass windows that are 100 years old and there was a ‘for lease’ sign. We turned the car around, called the number, and it so happened the owner of the building was next door, so we signed the lease that day. We had no plans, we had absolutely nothing and, 30 days, later we were open.”
Trying to describe their plans was a little tricky at first. “Do you know how hard it was explaining to our family that we were opening up a store?” says Chris. “They would ask, ‘What are you going to sell?’ We’re not selling anything!”
The personal touch: That the Hugheses were able to undergo the entire process of starting a business—from the initial concept to completing renovations—in 30 days is a good indication of the couple’s commitment. “Everything here is done in-shop,” says Chris. “There’s no hiring-out for anything. We’ll spend two hours postering ourselves. Washing the windows? We do it ourselves. Every wall has been built by us. There are nights that we sleep here because we’re so busy. I think that when you’re willing to do that, when you have that passion, it’s just a matter of time, no matter what business it is that you’re doing, that you’re going to be successful.”
Chris feels this hands-on approach extends to the work they do for their clients. “We’re not a cookie cutter; we take everything on as if it were our own,” he says. “We’re the home-cooked meal of graphic design and photography. There’s no sale pitch with us. We welcome people in even if they just want to talk about a vintage camera. We create an open atmosphere.”
Picture perfect: The retail setting of A Nerd’s World has opened the business up to a wider demographic than it might have attracted in a traditional office environment. Initially, however, it took a bit of time for customers to catch on. “The first day we were open,” says Chris, “one or two people came in and my heart dropped. I was thinking, ‘What did we get ourselves into?’ We’ve only been here about 10 months now, but it’s taken off to the point now where we have five full-time staff members and, believe it or not, we could still use more help.”
One aspect of the business that’s especially thriving is their portrait photography. “It’s endless,” says Mr. Hughes. “The way we look at it, anybody on the street should have a portrait, whether it’s for a business card, social media, giving it as a gift—it’s endless. We shoot children, infants, dogs—we shoot everything, absolutely everything. We find people are hiring us and saying, ‘Shoot our whole family.’ We’ve always been into this fine-art aspect and we’re actually finding more people like ourselves [who] don’t want corny pictures.
“We have a fine-art approach to everything,” adds Grace. “It doesn’t matter who it is. It could be a high-end client or someone who was just walking down the street, they get the same type of portrait.”
The camera eye: On display behind the counter at A Nerd’s World is an extensive assortment of vintage cameras, representing just a small percentage of the couple’s collection. These cameras are no artifacts, though—beyond serving as snappy decor, they’re all put to good use. “To me, it’s history,” says Chris. “I think step one is to learn from the masters. At least have an appreciation for it. We’ll go to garage sales and find these and it feels like we’re saving a bit of history.”
Their favourite camera, however, certainly didn’t come from a garage sale. “It’s a 3D camera from WWI,” says Chris. “It’s from 1916 and was owned by the French government to make propaganda.”