Check out Puzzle Nerds, Toronto’s only puzzle store

Like many people, partners Deborah Corner and Jo-Anne Bergeron were laid off during the pandemic. They had always dreamed of opening their own business but didn’t know what to do. It turns out that the answer to their entrepreneurial riddle was in their lap – on a wooden puzzle board.

“Doing puzzles gives me a sense of calm and organization, and I can let my mind wander as I work to complete the puzzle,” says Corner. “I often launch a podcast or an audiobook if I’m working solo, or Jo and I chat and brainstorm over a glass of wine if we’re working together.”

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Bergeron’s mother instilled in him a love of the hobby, and Corner and Bergeron had an entire table dedicated to the puzzle at a previous home. “I love the challenge of putting together a puzzle,” says Bergeron. “I’ll choose one that interests me, then I put the box aside and work on it without referring to the image. Deb thinks that’s a little crazy.

“But I find it so satisfying to figure out what goes where without any clues. And then, piece by piece, section by section, a beautiful picture emerges.

They found it difficult to buy truly spectacular puzzles, so they wondered, why not sell these beauties themselves? “We knew puzzles were growing in popularity during the pandemic, but it was hard to find unique, small-brand, modern puzzles in one space,” says Bergeron. “We wanted to deliver that with a focus on art and supporting new brands.”

They launched Puzzle Nerds as an online store in February 2021, then moved to a physical location at The Junction last September, opening Toronto‘s only store dedicated to puzzles. “We knew how beautiful (the store) could be, given the incredible artwork, and we had incredible feedback from our online customers about the assortment,” Corner said. “The puzzles on the shelf really speak for themselves.”

So, which puzzles are suitable for savvy puzzlers? Bergeron and Corner consider a few details: where a brand comes from, how available it is in Canada, whether it’s owned by a woman or a minority, and whether it’s Canadian or features Canadian art. The store features a nice array of local talent, including works by Darlene Kulig, who sells puzzles all over the world, and Arcadia Puzzles, which has Toronto and Canadian-themed options. (His “Toronto in Motion” is a fun illustration of landmarks like the CN Tower and Nathan Phillips Square, while “Canada, Hey!” is populated by Drake, Justin Bieber, Tim Hortons and the TTC.)

There’s a puzzle for everyone, from round puzzles and wooden puzzles to double-sided and gradient puzzles. There are micro puzzles (150 pieces in portable packaging) as well as huge 5,000 piece puzzles. “People like to do puzzles for all kinds of reasons,” says Corner. “Some people love challenges and problem solving, some are drawn to a particular image, and there’s such a sense of satisfaction in completing a puzzle.”

The store also offers puzzle-themed accessories, including puzzle piece jewelry by local artist Lisa Young Design. Serious puzzlers can also pick up puzzle glue, mats, trays, and sorters.

“Selling puzzles brings us joy, because we can provide a relaxing activity that stimulates the mind and is suitable for all ages. People often talk about unplugging and that’s a perfect way to do it,” says Bergeron. “We have couples who come looking for a date night activity. We have parents who come to get a puzzle for family time.

For Corner and Bergeron, working in the new store has another added benefit: hearing stories about the destinations of their puzzles. “It’s incredibly meaningful to us that people sometimes share who they’re buying a puzzle for and why,” Bergeron says. “It could be an elderly relative who is on their own, or they are sent across the country to a friend or loved one who is recovering from an illness. We love hearing about the amazing journeys some of these puzzles end on and the joy and comfort they can bring to others.

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