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In Conversation with Stonebridge's Owner

In Conversation with Stonebridge's Owner

This podcast was recorded May 24, 2022.

In this episode, Alex and Arthur sit down to talk about Stonebridge’s origins, Arthur’s opinion on the crystal industry, and about travelling.

Transcript

Alex:
This is the very first, of hopefully many different podcasts we’re going to be doing with interesting guests all the time. Just to kind of give you a more of an insight into what goes on here. And so, to start off with, we have the person who’s been with it since the beginning, since Stonebridge opened back in 2002, and just this year has recently taken full ownership of the company: Arthur Rocha! Thank you very much for entertaining my dumb ideas.

Arthur:
Not dumb at all. I think it’s great to build more content, and tell people the story behind all this.

Alex:
It’s something you get asked all the time, whenever people come in: “Well, what’s the deal with this? How long has this been here?” And so it kind of gives you a chance to expand on the story. All the time you’re talking with me, saying: “This happened X amount of years ago. This happened at this time.” And so might as well share those stories with the rest of the world, right?

Arthur:
Yeah. For sure. Where do you want to start?

Growing Up Around Crystals

Alex:
Well, let’s just start at the beginning. Right? I remember talking with Malu and Ariel. They always talk about how they grew up around crystals. They go to the basement and their dad was playing with rocks and they’d be learning all these facts about these salt lamps as they’re offloading them into the garage.

So I wanted to know, how do you think that changed your childhood? Were you a product of your environment when it came to the love of stones, or did you grow attached to it because you genuinely liked them?

Arthur:
Both things are correct. Yeah, definitely. Seeing my dad as a hero. An immigrant came here with pretty much nothing, and he built this business from scratch. And now I want to take that legacy to the next level. Basically that’s what I’m here for.

Alex:
So when you say it’s built it from scratch, you mentioned before that… This business started off in the back of a van, and you’re going to different shows and stuff like that. Do you have much recollection of that? Or is it more so like you weren’t involved in that sort of stuff yet? Who set up the logistics? Like, “let’s go to the CanGift show in Toronto!”.

Arthur:
Sure. That was mostly my dad. He started the business, him and his wife. I always helped out a little bit whenever I could. I went to many of these shows together. We had a minivan. Actually before the minivan, just a car. And we’d just load up a bunch of crystals in the side.

Alex:
What kind of car was it?

Arthur:
It was an old Buick. It’s like a big boat looking car. It was amazing. So we would just go up and find all the local shows, gift shows and rock & gem shows in the area. And we would just buy a little table, and sit there for the weekend. The business kind of started that way.

The big gift expo - that was in Toronto - that was like an actual big jump in the business. It was 2002 or 2003. That’s a much bigger investment, cause it’s quite a bit more expensive. But it really gave us a big boost into the soapstone business, and we found some really good business that way.

Alex:
So would you say 2002… As far as I understand, Stonebridge Imports was founded in 2002. So I was kinda like, “Okay, we’ve established a brand. Now we’re going to these bigger shows. Let’s turn this from just an immigrant, new to Canada, selling rocks out of the back of a Buick, into this big giant thing.” Right?

Arthur:
Yeah. It was first out of my old partner’s garage; Steve. We went to a few shows that way. And then after a little while we rented a tiny little basement warehouse in Kitchener, and then the next step was that we rented a house as a store. And we were there for many, many years. So the store front was the main floor, and we lived upstairs.

Alex:
Where was this house at?

Arthur:
Bridgeport and Regina.

Alex:
Down the street basically.

Arthur:
Yeah. And then after that, a few years there, we opened our first warehouse. It was on Lancaster street. That was the big expansion to the business. And then we got this current location in 2011.

Travelling for Shows

Alex:
So it’s been here for 11 years now. So I’m thinking… do you mind me asking? In 2002, I was four years old at that point. How old were you?

Arthur:
15.

Alex:
Got a lot more guts than I did when I was 15. I mean, I was still super shy and… To be going to shows and be surrounded by people and to try and make a sale as a 15 year old would be “Ehhh....”

Arthur:
Well, I’ll tell you, I was really awkward. I didn’t really enjoy that much either. I was just like, “Oh, I don’t know what’s going on.” I just got dragged along. And I enjoy some of it. I enjoyed the traveling part, but I didn’t really enjoy being behind there, moving all these shelves and heavy rocks. As a kid I just did it. I learned to enjoy it, and I saw how much my dad and my family worked hard. And I did it out of love.

Alex:
Do you miss traveling?

Arthur:
I don’t miss traveling. I do quite a bit of traveling still, but I don’t go to sell at shows. I go to buy and network and do different things as well.

Alex:
That makes sense. Later this week, you’re going down to Brazil, to see [your Dad] again.

Arthur:
Yeah. I’m going to visit my dad there, in Brazil. And see some suppliers, meet some new ones, and maybe find some cool new things to bring back.

Alex:
Do you reminisce on the old days a lot? Do you sit down with your dad with a beer in the hand. Go, “Man. Remember that one crazy time. This happened at that one show?” You got any stories like that? Do you got any like … something wild that just happened while you’re out on the road or at a show or something?

Arthur:
Oh, so many crazy things happen. Definitely, uh, crashed into a gas station once. There was definitely a time where we went to Montreal and it was a big whiteout, and it took like 20 hours to get there. I don’t remember the year, they all blend together. Some shows we got kicked out of. That’s always fun.

Alex:
How did you get kicked out of a show? I got to ask it. Was it like all you guys got kicked out, or it’s like one of you little Rascals did something that caused you guys to get kicked out.

Arthur: I don’t remember the whole situation. But we definitely ruffled a bunch of feathers. I was always a lot more cautious. I take myself out of that.

The Rock Spa

Alex:
We’ll chalk it up to one of the other two who shall not be mentioned. So going back to 2011, you guys got this place and it was right around that time that you had the idea for the Rock Spa. And so does that have an interesting origin story? Or is it kind of just… You woke up from a deep sleep, and went “A spa! And crystals!”

Arthur: No, no, it was definitely a brewing thing. My dad started the business. He started everything. Mostly his ideas from the beginning. The Rock Spa started because he had sleep apnea. So that’s an interesting story. He went to one of the sleep clinics.

And the sleep clinic pretty much ratted him out to the Ontario government and the MTO… Ministry of Transportation. Cause if you have sleep apnea, then you got to get properly tested. Otherwise they can revoke your license.

So they were literally days away from revoking his license. Otherwise you had to get one of those C-PAP machines, things like that. So he went and did a ton of research, and found that salt therapy really helped. So he built a salt room, which is the main thing for him. He built it so he could help himself and the community.

Alex:
That’s interesting. So yeah, that whole salt room [pictured below], did he build it all with his own two hands or did you have -?

Arthur:
No, we hired a crew. And we had some new friends out of the deal too and it was really cool at the time. Yeah. It’s very interesting.

Alex:
Which eventually turned into the rest of the spa. You had the salt room and then you just kind of like, “okay, what other therapies and stuff like that. Can you give back to the community?” So he was the Guinea pig. He would test all this stuff out and be like, “this works for. Let’s get it for the store”?

Arthur:
Yeah. Basically. A lot of businesses come out of necessity. Solving all sorts of problems. That’s a clear case of that.

Alex:
I mean, yeah, if it works for you, it definitely is going to work for everyone else.

Arthur:
Yeah. So definitely helped a lot of people in that regards. I remember meeting many clients throughout the years that came here every week. They’re like, “If I don’t come to the salt room, I won’t sleep!”

Alex:
How often did you go into the salt room?

Arthur:
Quite a bit. Yeah, actually I loved it in there. It was very quiet. Just sit there and do some meditation or just have a little nap.

Alex:
I feel like a lot of that stuff is just so easy to just relax and fall asleep in it. To lose track of time.

Arthur:
For sure. It was really cool. It was an interesting business that unfortunately passed away due to COVID.

Alex:
Do you miss it?

Arthur:
No, no, I don’t really reminisce on the past too much. I’m much more of a forward-looking guy. So my thing is talking about the future and what’s new and exciting.

Alex:
Yeah. I don’t know how much detail we should go into, but I remember hearing the horror stories from the spa.

Arthur:
Yeah. It was definitely a challenging business. Maintenance of it was pretty demanding. And we changed a lot over the years for the Rock Spa. There were services and practitioners, massage therapy, reflexology. And then we stopped with all of that. And went into different services, like the flotation tank, and the crystal bed, and all these different things.

Alex:
I remember a lot of people talking about how much they loved the floatation tank and stuff like that. Well, I’m glad at least everyone got to experience it.

Arthur:
Yeah, it was good while it lasted. But you know, things change.

Transitions and New Beginnings Amid the Pandemic

Alex:
And speaking of things changing, how do you find things have changed since pre-pandemic versus after pandemic? Do you have anything that really sticks out in your mind of the before times versus the after.

Arthur:
Oh man. There’s so many things. I think people in general are more towards the natural, and alternative therapies to help with your health. That’d being maybe meditation, or yoga, or using crystals, or different things that help. And I think that there’s a little more awareness happening throughout COVID and continuing on. So that’s why I see the business going that way.

Alex:
I definitely see now that [everyone’s] been a lot more lax on the pandemic and everything like that, so many people got the chance to do some self reflection, try more natural things, maybe take up meditation and yoga, which were kind of a necessity for people coping. All this crazy stuff going on and then come out of it.

People are kind of just like, “Well, I want to keep doing this stuff.” Like, it helps. It’s not like some activity where it’s like, “Okay, now that we’re able to go outside again, we’re just gonna like give it up.” It’s like, no, people like this stuff. And they’ve had that kind of excuse and a chance to give it a try. And then realize they like it and continue through with it.

Arthur:
Exactly. Yeah. For sure. I think that we’re in a good spot in the business to help those people open up!

Alex:
Not a lot of that type of place in Kitchener. I’ve lived here most of my life. I’ve never seen any place - besides Stonebridge, and now The Rock Space - that has that sort of niche. You know, we had Green Earth and stuff like that, where I’d get all my incense and all my sage. But that closed down. That no longer exists, unfortunately. And so it’s nice that at least there’s somewhere where everything that I need for meditation, that sort of thing. Right here!

Arthur:
Exactly, yeah. And I think that retail in general and having a store is a service to the community. Yeah, you can buy anything you want online. Right? I mean, everybody had to throughout the COVID times.

But it’s a very different experience when you come in and you see it in person and you touch it and you feel it, and you have different selections and you interact with the people there. And I think it’s really important for the community to have a place to do that.

Alex:
Especially too, it’s very important to interact with stuff besides through a screen. We’ve all had our fill of navigating online spaces now. And so it’s back to using our legs. That’s also a big question. You’ve been around Stonebridge since the very beginning. So it’s even before 2002, it was still around before that.

Arthur:
No, no, sorry to correct you. Um, 2002, that’s when my whole family moved [to Canada]. The business was actually founded in October 2002. So I think most things kind of started in around that fall/winter. I worked part-time and helped my dad whenever I could, on weekends, whenever. I was in still a school. And then after I finished my university, I came full time. That’s when we moved into this building, in like 2010/2011.

Alex:
So that kind of just all came together at that point. The past 10 years, then, let me ask you this: What do you think is the biggest change you think you’ve seen in all of Stonebridge? Is there something that was monumental?

Arthur:
No. Stonebridge… The kind of values that we use are innovation and constant improvement. So I think that every year and every month we improve. And over the course of, say a year, we improve a little bit every day, then that’s a huge compound interest of improvements.

There’s never a major thing that happens. I think just constant improvement is the name of the game for us. And you see that and if you take some pictures today, this place will look very different in a few months.

Alex:
Yeah, even compare it to like, two weeks ago, all of a sudden “That didn’t exists, that is brand new. All of a sudden that’s gone. It’s been replaced by something else.” It’s like every two weeks, there’s something that’s been changed. And you know, it feels a lot nicer because of it. Feng Shui. It just feels good when you move stuff around.

Arthur:
Yeah. I apply that to my life as well. Just always improving.

Travelling Around the World

Alex:
Yeah, for sure. You’re also very much… you like to keep active. You go rock climbing a lot in your spare time. And you also… Was it recently that you started taking up rockhounding? Or was that kind of always a passive interest?

Arthur:
Y’know, kids just always love rocks. Most kids just pick up rocks on side of the road. But recently, I took a little bit more interest in actually going into some mines, and digging on my own, and seeing where some of these things come from. And it’s pretty cool. Actually, through my rock climbing trips, I go out in the bush, or go to the mountain, and I always bring some rocks back.

Alex:
Walk me through that. What happens? You just go, “I’m going to go out over there with a pickaxe in my hand and just dig the ground.” What’s your thought process for that?

Arthur:
Well, you know, depends where it is. Shouldn’t really be digging someone’s yard. So only go to places you’re allowed to go. Canada is a really big and beautiful place, lots of nature. And there’s definitely a lot of opportunity to go out there and find your own crystals and rocks, for sure.

Alex:
Yeah. Recently you just went out to Arizona. This big, huge trade show. Is there any interesting stories from that you’ve ever wanted to talk about? Any interesting characters?

Arthur:
So many. I love that place. It is the Mecca of all crystals. Tucson, Arizona. And every time I go, the energy is just insane. I’ve been going every year for a few years. Every time it is unique and different and beautiful. I can’t think of any crazy stories that happen, but there’s always the biggest and most obscene amount of crystals. They are huge! You look at this thing and it’s like, “What? That come out of the ground?!” It doesn’t even make sense!

Alex:
It’s always so insane to see a geode that could fit a full sized adult into it. We were talking earlier about making literal crystal beds. Or just cocoon yourself into a giant amethyst geode or something like that. Those trees! Those trees are insane!

Arthur:
Yeah. So people always make cool things out there. And the thing with crystals is that; we’re really taking this out of the ground. So it’s natures art in a way. And everything has its unique displays. Where they come from, around the world. And every time you never know what’s going to be next. So sometimes that affects why… some years it’s more of this, some years more of that. But every single one is unique and beauty.

Alex:
Stuff that’s happening all over the world. We get all of our supply from all over the world. So it’s really dependent on that aspect of what happens when. So… you’ve been to Arizona. You’ve been to Brazil. What’s the place you’ve always wanted to go to next?

Arthur:
Oh man. I haven’t been to Asia. I’ll have to go to Asia. There’s so much out there too. Very different. Indonesia, they have really cool stuff coming out of there as well. Or even India. There’s beautiful places in India to visit. Yeah. I’d love to go there. Or Thailand.

Alex:
You’ve already done the rock climbing. Just do the backpacking through southeast Asia instead.

Arthur:
You know, I love travelling. So the rockhounding, business traveling, and rock climbing, they all go hand in hand. If I can hit all three of them in that trip, I’ll do it.

Alex:
Yeah. All your hobbies and your business just work together.

Arthur:
Just the love of rocks. The funny thing is my last name; Rocha, literally means “rock.” It is my destiny. It’s not going away. True story.

Alex:
Yeah. Just to cap this off here, Mr. Stone - literally in your name. What do you see for the future of minerals, stones, crystals, geology, all that stuff in general? Do you have any wisdom, any insights from… more than half your life spent in this field? What do you got to say about this whole crazy world that we’re a part of?

Arthur:
Yeah, man. I don’t know that much. And I’m constantly learning every day. I don’t want to say I’m wise by any stretch of the imagination. But, I think just more awareness is important. Gem collecting and crystals have been around for centuries. Millennia. People just have talent. And people keep digging out different archeological sites and finding different crystals and stones in there. So I don’t think this will go away ever.

Alex:
Plenty of earth to go through.

Arthur:
Let’s hope we don’t go through all the earth. But the scale… The industry is pretty small compared to other things that they mine for. Manufacturing, or cars, or batteries. But as long as we do it in a very respectful manner, I think we should keep going with it, and providing this value.

Alex:
For sure. And I guess just to end it all off, is there anything you’ve always wanted to say to the whole wide world? Anything directly to our audience?

Arthur:
Thank you. Thank you for being part of this world. I love all of you.