Over the next four weeks Edmonton Made will profile each member of the selection committee for Gifted, the Edmonton Made gift guide. The six-person panel, in consultation with Edmonton Made, will choose the products that will appear in the 2018 edition of Edmonton Made’s signature catalogue. Find out more about the selection process here.
When asked to choose the locale for a photo shoot, Cherie Klassen provided Edmonton Made a list of a dozen different restaurants, bars, cafes and retail venues along Whyte Avenue.
Given her position as executive director of the Old Strathcona Business Association, it’s easy to assume Klassen didn’t want to play favourites, but watching her emphatically describe her plans for the area it becomes clear that she truly sees the merit in each of the 700 businesses she represents.
“I’m falling in love with Old Strathcona all over again,” she says. “I came down here during the bar scene when I was 20, and it’s not the same area. We have these fantastic establishments that are for so many people to enjoy.”
Still, we were in need of a venue so we asked Klassen to meet us at one of the area’s newest offerings — Sugared and Spiced, a back-alley bakery located behind the Varscona Theatre.
Turns out this is fitting, as Klassen helped owners Jeff and Amy Nachtigall grow their business from a farmer’s market stall to this bright, airy, brick-and-mortar establishment.
“I pitched to them that they should crowdfund to get some seed money to make their bakeshop a reality.… They broke a record in 24 hours,” Klassen says proudly.
A small business advocate, Klassen has helped countless entrepreneurs over the years — starting with her brother.
She started working at his medical clinic part-time while on maternity leave ten years ago. As the clinic started to expand, Klassen, who has a background in PR and marketing, began taking on more managerial duties.
“I just kind of dove in,” she says. “I saw him working so hard and not always getting what I thought he deserved. Something about that really drove me, so I stayed on longer and longer.”
It was through this experience that she gained a deep appreciation for entrepreneurship.
When it came to leave the clinic in 2012, Klassen knew she wanted to continue working with small business and took a job as a learning services coordinator with Business Link, a provincial resource hub for entrepreneurs.
“It’s an amazing organization,” she says. “You get to be surrounded by entrepreneurs and people who support them, and every day somebody comes in with a new idea.”
In October 2017, Klassen wrapped up a six-year career at Business Link. She is now the head of one of Edmonton’s largest business associations, and looks forward to shaping the policies that affect businesses in the area — starting with beautifying the back alley where Jeff and Amy’s bakery sits.
But her big plan is to open an arts incubator that would help creative types — from graphic designers to film producers to illustrators — with the ins and outs of running a successful business.
“They really struggle with business,” says Klassen. “I saw that repeatedly at Business Link, and I think there’s no better place to open [an arts incubator] than in Old Strathcona.”