Variant Edition finds new Bat Cave after Stony Plain Road flood

· The Pulse

Variant Edition has opened a new sanctum after catastrophic flooding at Revolution Square forced it and at least nine businesses to leave. Now the indie comic shop's owners are forging a future where the bricks-and-mortar store is just the origin story in a hero's arc.

"We thought to ourselves, 'What ways can Variant Edition adjust to really see through to tomorrow?' One of those ideas was building a space that was more like a comic book store as a showroom," co-owner Brandon Schatz told Taproot.

The new space at 10086 164 Street NW is slightly smaller in square footage than the Revolution Square location: about 1,700 compared to the square's footprint of 1,800. That's not a problem for Schatz and co-owner Danica LeBlanc, because they are experimenting with a new business model, with a more tightly curated sales floor and space for multimedia endeavours."

"You still have a lot of our product, but in more of a storage capacity," Schatz said of the store, which opened on May 15. "You have that common shared space, and you have the ability to do videos or podcasts, and … act as sort of Canada's local comic book store, that you can visit through these videos and conversations and livestreams."

A flood in late January resulted in more than a million litres of water rushing into the basement of Revolution Square at 15115 Stony Plain Road NW, Schatz said. He and LeBlanc spent much of their time between then and mid-May operating as a pop-up at Pe Metawe Games. The tabletop gaming space at 11805 94 Street NW, which hosts a monthly queer board game night and held a fundraiser for Nék̓em last year, did not charge Variant Edition rent or commissions on sales.

"It wasn't a permanent fixture at Pe Metawe, although (owner David Plamondon) would love us to be," LeBlanc told Taproot with a laugh. "We had a blast being there."

LeBlanc and Schatz felt the need to move along quickly after the flood due to insufficient updates from property managers Property Masters, even though she appreciated the company's position. (Property Masters would not comment for this story.)

"The women we've worked with (at Property Masters) have been amazing," LeBlanc said. "At some point, the communication dropped. I don't want to come out of this blaming them, because this is literally something no one could have planned for."

Variant Edition wasn't the only tenant to head for drier ground. Revolution Cycle's Edmonton location permanently moved into a former car dealership at 11445 Jasper Avenue NW, and Wolfhouse MMA is temporarily located at 4120 101 Street NW. The square's future remains uncertain.

"Regardless of what happens, we hope that if that building needs to be levelled, I think it's a great opportunity to reimagine what that site could be," said Todd Janes, the executive director of the Stony Plain Road Business Association.

Two smiling people pose in a space filled with comic books and boxes.

Danica LeBlanc and Brandon Schatz, the co-owners of Variant Edition, have returned to the Stony Plain Business Association area after four months away due to the flooding at their former location at Revolution Square. (Supplied)

Variant Edition's new location remains within the Stony Plain Road Business Association's jurisdiction. But it's not likely everyone will find a new home within the business improvement area that Janes oversees along the Stony Plain Road corridor from 140 Street to 170 Street. He said the BIA has low vacancy, and the open slots available are on the smaller end of the square-footage scale, which may indicate what the future of business in the area looks like.

"With a major infrastructure like Valley Line West, we'll see an evolution to businesses and what they are," he said. "A lot of them, I think, will be more consumer-oriented. I think you'll see more retail, more food and beverage, more services. With that often comes (the fact that) they need smaller space or there's a smaller storefront. There's an upstairs or downstairs production facility or storage off-site, or something like that."

LRT construction has been an ongoing challenge for businesses along Stony Plain Road. Revolution Square tenants spoke out in September 2023 about frustrating delays on the project, which Marigold Infrastructure Partners is building under a P3 arrangement.

A 10-block stretch of Stony Plain Road just east of the BIA will be closed for the summer due to LRT construction. Coun. Andrew Knack, whose Nakota Isga ward includes the area, has been trying to find a way to compensate businesses disrupted by the construction. He narrowly got a motion passed asking administration to craft a policy to compensate businesses for financial losses caused by major construction projects. The report is due to come back to executive committee on June 19.

In Janes's experience, changes and challenges are nothing new for Stony Plain Road. He cited COVID-19, construction pressures, and the aforementioned ark-level flood as things his district has endured in just the last four years, not to mention less attention to infrastructure renewal than hubs like Jasper Avenue or Old Strathcona have received.

"I think Stony Plain Road is an area that has true grit," Janes said. "There's a real tenacity. A lot of the businesses have been there for 40, 50 years. They're pioneer businesses; they're in destination locations. Then, we see a lot of new businesses blossoming up."

It seems Janes, LeBlanc, and Schatz align in their belief in the district.

"We moved in there — gosh — seven years ago now, in another location, so this will be our third location in the Stony Plain Road business district," LeBlanc said. "It's the kind of neighbourhood that, no matter where you are in it, you can wave at someone, you can say hello, and you can say good morning. You can't honestly do that in a lot of neighbourhoods."

Work to drum up enthusiasm along Stony Plain Road is ongoing. We Belong in Jasper Place, an initiative to foster community in west Edmonton, has found its footing; new art wraps for traffic boxes are being installed; and Janes said new murals are coming soon. There's also a Young Giant-themed effort to encourage spending with complementary currency.