The Store with the Open Door
By Caroline Barlott
Ron Dempsey opens the large garage door that is located at the front of his business, Irma Home & Garden Decor. As the door opens the vastness of the warehouse becomes apparent — there are three large rooms full of garden décor — over 5000 sq ft of display. The shop is located right off Highway 14, making it a convenient stop for those passing through the small town of Irma with a population of about 500 people. “I really like meeting the people who come through. And I enjoy just finding out where they come from,” says Dempsey. Over the years, he has had customers come from many parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Dempsey leads the way into the side of his office where hardware and home decor are sold. Standing behind the counter, he passes over his business card, which is decorated with several four leaf clovers. The hat he wears is Irish and there are a few mugs with Irish sayings on a nearby shelf. “My dad’s side of the family is Irish. And we have all been to Ireland; we have been five times. I have 36 first cousins there,” he says. He goes on to say how much he appreciates Irish culture and the way people embrace a laid back lifestyle that focuses on family. But from hearing the story of how he started the garden center with his late wife and how he continues to run it with the help of their four adult children, it is clear that Dempsey has found a way to create such a life for himself in small-town Alberta.
Irma Home & Garden Decor has always been a family run business. It started in 1978 when Dempsey and his wife bought the building. They started the business as a lumberyard with some garden décor for sale. From the beginning, his wife had a green thumb and loved decorating their garden space. That passion inspired the couple to change their business and gradually they began collecting more and more outdoor décor.
Today, it makes up the majority of the items in the store. But the shelves in the office area are also full of other items including hardware, basic veterinary supplies, frames, and other decor for interiors.
When it comes to deciding what to carry in his store, Dempsey says, it’s important that the items be unique. He points to three decorative boxes made out of yardsticks that are stacked near the counter. A few steps away, a side table has a top that appears to be a piece of vintage luggage; a wine rack made from horseshoes sits nearby; and a giant clock leans against one wall. “My kids also go to the gift shows with me to pick out unique items.”
A laser cut decorative silhouette hangs from the wall — it’s a camping scene complete with horses and cowboys and, Dempsey says, it was made in B.C. The detail and weight are unusual, he says, because of the amount of time, skill and equipment required to craft the piece.
The garden decor is often elaborate with many colourful outdoor wall hangings that incorporate metal and glass in interesting ways. There are giant pots for plants, elaborately decorated tables, benches with highly detailed metalwork, and new lanterns that look vintage.
“There is a saying we heard when we started that: ‘If it doesn’t catch your eye in 10 seconds, don’t buy it.’ And what appeals to me will not necessarily appeal to someone else. So that is why we end up with so many different kinds of items around. You have to offer people choice,” says Dempsey.
Dempsey is preparing for the busy season, which starts in spring and continues to late fall; the shop has an open house in May for Mother’s Day and another in November right at the start of the Christmas season.