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Little store is for the birds – and the people

Steve Kulak and Kay Kozlowski enjoyed shopping at Edmonton's Wildbird General Store so much, they bought the place – along with the ethos of store founder Jack Clement.
Kay Kozlowski and Steve Kulak of Wildbird General Store.
Kay Kozlowski and Steve Kulak of Wildbird General Store.

Steve Kulak and Kay Kozlowski enjoyed shopping at Edmonton's Wildbird General Store so much, they bought the place – along with the ethos of store founder Jack Clement.

"Always remember, Steve, it's not a birding store–- it's a people store," Kulak recalls Clement describing the bird-centric eco-store, a quirky survivor in the city's retail community since 1989.

With a vast selection of seed, meticulously handcrafted and locally made bird houses as well as an eclectic and unique composition of gifts for nature lovers and bird enthusiasts alike, the Wildbird General Store, 4712 99 St., is an example of how passion and people can keep a business going.

Founded by retired ornithologist Clement in 1989, the store is now owned by partners Kulak and Kozlowski. A long-time customer, Kulak purchased the shop with Kozlowski in the spring of 2017 after their research work in molecular genetics at the University of Alberta had come to a halt. The store represents a passion for Kulak that began in childhood, inspired by his own mother who was an avid birder

"For me birds are a type of animal you can interact with on a different level," says Kulak. "With patience, you can teach them to eat from your hand."

Specializing in quality Canadian seed, bird houses, feeders, bird baths, guidebooks, binoculars and scopes, Wildbird General Store also carries a large selection of gift items like puzzles, toys, artwork and more – all with a focus on nature and eco-friendly products. The pair also share a strong commitment to locally made goods.

"We try to get as much as we can just here in Edmonton," says Kulak. "We like it when people shop local so we try to do the same."

As much as birding excursions play a part in their business, a lot of their day to day customers enjoy backyard birding.

"Backyard birding is a mainstay of the business, encouraging the birds come to you instead of you going to the birds," says Kozlowski. She adds it's an inexpensive and accessible way to enjoy nature for those that are less mobile, and it provides a great way to take a few moments to unplug during the day.

"In a fast-paced world it's about slowing down and looking out of the window for a few minutes."

According to Kulak, Alberta alone has regular recognized sightings of over 400 different species of birds, making it easy to imagine why their small shop seems to be a lively hub of customers and enthusiasts. For Kulak and Kozlowski, however, it's less about the actual birding and more about the people that come through the door each day, describing it as the 'Cheers' of local nature shops.

"We have a lot of regulars and they are not necessarily people who spend a lot, that's not what it's about," says Kozlowski. "You get to know people after a while and a lot of times you'll find the customers chatting amongst themselves, too."

On top of its function as a retail space, the store also contributes a great deal to the greater birding community, supporting organizations like the Beaverhill Bird Observatory, Edmonton and Area Land Trust, and Edmonton Nature Club. The store also has space that converts into a seminar room for birding classes, they share events online and through social media and there's even a public whiteboard for customers to record sightings.

"That information is recorded and the store has decades worth of bird sighting info that's been logged," says Kulak. "If it's an usual sighting we'll get that information to the museum, there's and ornithology group there, to report it."

Gigi Meade-Jabs, who after many years of work in government communications and a teaching at the University of Alberta, now works at the store part-time while she authors her second book.

"This was always my happy place, I've shopped here for years," says Meade-Jabs. "So being able to work in my happy place is pretty great."

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