About Stratford with Helen Matheson

The Green Room is a welcome escape from big box stores and a 'must visit' when in Stratford. Helen Matheson, the owner, lovingly curates the treasures ranging from a huge selection of Hunter Boots to sassy greeting cards, from a select range of lingerie to Pendleton plaid shirts.

Born on a small farm, close to the Ontario town of Glencoe, Helen quickly learned that life takes a lot of elbow grease. She was the sidekick to her father and quickly took hold of the book keeping duties. As a 12 year old, she became even busier with the passing of her father. She laughs at what people must have thought of her trying to get the laundry up over the laundry line. It took her a several attempts as she was so small. Though Helen desperately wanted to go to university, her family didn’t have the money. Instead, she became the dean of retail.

The Green Room started as a music store when Helen and her former husband moved to Stratford. Buying antique cupboards to put stereo equipment on gave her the buying bug. She came across white dinner jackets at a market and the city lined up to buy them. The Green Room became the place to find prom outfits - 50’s prom dresses - and Helen the styler to teens. During June, boys could often be found getting lessons on how to tie bow ties from Helen. Next up was Hawaiian shirts, speak easy clothing, fashion from Toronto designers, and many other eclectic type items.

What brought you to Stratford?

My husband had secured a music store franchise and we had a choice of two areas - Stratford and Guelph. We chose Stratford because it was closer to London, where we lived at the time. My first impression upon arriving was why were the storefronts so boring. I worked to create a front window that was not only intended to bring in customers but that was something interesting for the city and its residents. 

How did you decide on the name Green Room?

When we moved into the space, it was so large that we had to create a common lingo that would map out where things were. A certain area of it was painted green so we called it the green area. Then, we needed a name for the store, we just decided to use it. Funny thing is that customers thought that we were so smart in referring to the green room at theatres - the place where actors get ready before coming on stage. We had no idea that’s what it was called. 

What have you learned about retail?

There is so much dependance on market research when choosing retail products. I think it’s much simpler - a person who would buy a $400 pair of shoes might also buy a $2 fridge magnet. I tend not to plan but rather to follow my intuition.

What is your favourite part of Stratford?

I am passionate for music and there is lots to choose from in Stratford. Stratford Summer Music is spectacular as it is so creative in its offerings. Last year, they partnered with the Stratford Field Naturalists --whose members walk the trails every Sunday morning at 9 a.m.-- to lead the walk and identify some of the birds singing in the trees. At several intervals along the way members of the aptly named Charm of Finches played their flutes among the bird calls and the wind in the leaves. It is spectacular. 

What is your design sense? 

I am inspired by going to trade shows throughout North America including annual sojourns to Toronto, NYC and Atlanta. I’m also a very loyal magazine subscriber to Vogue, Home and Garden and Toronto Life.  I have a simple buying process - I buy what I love because if the product doesn’t sell I have to look at it every day. Better to look at something I love. 

Any tips for a tourist to Stratford?

Go to the Sunday Slow Food Market at Falstaff. It is centrally located and intimate. It’s unlike other farmer’s market which rely on food from a terminal. At the Sunday market, you will find local greens including parsnips, beets, carrots, basil, tomatoes, spinach and swiss chard. It is a 5 minute walk from Edison’s. Also, do some shopping. Because of all of the tourists, Stratford is able to be more progressive in its offering of products and services as it has to respond to the tastes of tourists from all over the world.

Helen is a very special friend and neighbour of Edison’s. The Green Room is a unique place and one of the reasons why this writer moved to Stratford. Check it out Tuesdays to Saturdays between 10 a.m and 7 p.m. Summer Music runs from July 17th-August 27th. The headliner for this year's program is Buffy St Marie.