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Orillia’s Refillery District – a “heart-based” social enterprise

On July 12, 2018, Refillery District opened its doors in the heart of downtown Orillia. In the three years since, the initial dream of Allie Fry and Tyler Knight has been supported by a growing number of local people.

“Refillery has become a force of its own,” says co-founder Allie Fry. “It’s not something that we had been planning. A commercial space became vacant, and we were both inexplicably drawn to it and to starting a business based on serving people and the planet. Tyler and I both have a deep love for Orillia’s downtown.

“One night in 2017, I woke up at 1 a.m. with an idea. What about a refill store? There was no blueprint for this. It took a lot of problem-solving, and trial and error. I had no idea how much work was involved in managing a store – orders, staff, operations. Personally, I didn’t know I had it in me. But when you have a passion – for me, it’s environmental and social – it makes it easier and more satisfying. And in the store, conversations with customers and staff keep me going.”

Allie’s background in holistic nutrition, psychology and women’s studies helped her to realize the human-nature connection and a newly discovered entrepreneurial spirit. “I had never thought of myself as a business person. We both just have a passion for nature and a deep love for the downtown.” Allie and Tyler have since discovered that they’re not alone–and that Orillia has a lot of very sustainability-conscious, community-minded residents.
Like their neighbours and every other retail business, Refillery faced pandemic challenges. At the beginning, it was all uncharted territory. They lost staff who didn’t want to work on the front lines. Supplies were unstable. There were so many unknowns. Sales dropped. They had to close for a few months and go online. It worked.

Post-pandemic, Refillery shows no signs of slowing down. Their product line has expanded from 400 products to 1600. Refillery businesses now comprise a large movement across the country. “We’re so happy to be part of it,” says Allie.

On July 1, Refillery District decided not to celebrate Canada Day. The day before, they posted their intention to contribute 100% of their July 1 profits to the Vancouver-based Indian Residential School Survivors’ Society (IRSSS). “We raised over $3,000 in total that one day,” says Allie, “more than any day in our history. When we opened, customers were waiting at the doors. They flooded in. In-store donations were made. Over $800 came through Facebook donations. In total, along with the day’s profits, $3,019.22 was donated to the IRSSS. It’s an indication of the conscience in our community.”
The public response to Refillery in its first few years has been encouraging. “We have not really invested in marketing so far,” says Allie. “Our customers appreciate that we put heart into choosing our products. They feel good about shopping with us. We work hard to keep our costs down – if we could be a not-for-profit, we would. Making sustainability accessible – that’s what we want to do. It’s our purpose.”

Who are Refillery’s customers? People come from all over the region, from all walks of life. “Our customers include a lot of moms,” Allie says. “They’re coming in to feed their young families healthy food and products with non-toxic ingredients. We also see men doing full grocery shops – doing their best to focus on nutrition and health. A lot of elderly people are some of our most loyal customers. They come in with their jars and their containers and their backpacks. Some grew up in the 60s and 70s and have that 60’s lifestyle attitude ingrained in them. They’re a huge part of our market.”

As Allie thinks of the future, she hopes Refillery will go beyond retail into education and advocacy, towards building a sustainability movement. She also has dreams of expanding to Barrie if an opportunity arises.

Refillery seeks to create a platform for collective community impact. “In every decision we make,” says Allie, “we are asking ourselves how we can use Refillery as a social enterprise to have a social and environmental impact. People want to feel purpose and meaning and make a difference. This gives me so much hope.

“It comes down to listening to your heart. We’re part of a heart-based movement. That’s what binds all these pieces together. Is it good for people? Is it good for the planet? If we base our decisions on those core values that are in our hearts, we can’t go wrong. Every product choice that Refillery makes has to be in line with those values.”

These values are reflected in Refillery’s product line which is sourced as local as possible: organic fresh vegetables, humanely raised meats, bulk whole foods, non-toxic bath and beauty products, eco-friendly household cleaners, and quality, practical products at affordable prices, always with a view to reducing the impact on the planet.

“July 1 was a monumental moment,” Allie says, “with all those people walking through the doors. Our customers and our community inspire me – these everyday people keep on making everyday choices to fill their jars. It’s not always convenient, but people keep coming.”

Sustainable Orillia salutes Refillery District and its customers. You are local heroes in your pursuit of sustainable practices in your everyday living.
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To contact Refillery District:
Allie Fry & Tyler Knight, Co-Founders & Operating Partners
18 Mississauga Street E., Orillia, ON L3V1V5
phone: 705-259-3261
website: www.refillerydistrict.ca
email: info@refillerydistrict.ca

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