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New Westminster decor shop a barometer for changing city

When the industry you work in begins to shrink and move away, you can try to change with it, or follow it wherever it goes, or you can be like Joanne Leblanc and use your industry skills in a new business entirely.

When the industry you work in begins to shrink and move away, you can try to change with it, or follow it wherever it goes, or you can be like Joanne Leblanc and use your industry skills in a new business entirely.

Leblanc spent 15 years decorating the film sets for movie and TV shoots around the Lower Mainland. Some of the more notable ones were filmed locally including Megan Fox' and Amanda Seyfried's bedrooms in the 2009 thriller Jennifer's Body, family film Flicka and supernatural drama The Secret Circle.

But with film studios shifting more of their work to Ontario, which offers producers meatier tax breaks, Leblanc began to think about starting her own home decor business.

"I found myself basically unemployed for three or four months of every year,' Leblanc said.

Then, when Western Shaver Centre closed up after decades at 544 Sixth St., Leblanc sprang into action and got to work on opening Sonse Home Design.

"I waited for two years for this corner to open up," she said. "I came out of London Drugs one day and saw the previous owner putting up newspaper in the windows and I literally sprinted home to find out who the property manager was."

Leblanc, you see, is quite the booster for uptown New Westminster. In her opinion, far too much attention has been paid to downtown, the Quay and Sapperton, while uptown has gone through a decline.

But, always astute to changing trends, Leblanc said that is coming to an end and the area seems to be entering something of a renaissance, judging by the number of new businesses opening up to cater to the same demographic she is catering to - young couples and families that have moved to New West to buy a first home or condo.

Families, like her own who moved from Vancouver five years ago, like the area because of cheaper home prices, proximity to parks and schools and access to transportation.

And the new demographic calling New West home is bringing keen taste with it, Leblanc said.

Leblanc said there seems to a bit of "keeping up with the Joneses on Columbia" as many of her customers live in the nearby condos on Seventh Avenue.

"A lot of them say, 'I'm in an older building. I better start making my place look good,'" she said.

Her store is now stocked, end to end, with everything from tabletop ornaments, wall decorations and furniture to lighting and pillows.

"The price point starts at 55 cents and goes up to $2,000. There's something here for everyone," she said. "I don't want anyone to come in and say, "Oh, I can't shop here.'"

Her best selling item right now is a Union Jack doormat.

In addition to selling home decor items, Leblanc channels her film set perfectionism and offers staging, redecorating consultation, room planning and holiday decorating services.

And you might be surprised what else is coming back into high demand and who wants to buy it. Every day, Leblanc said she sees men coming in to look at wallpaper samples.

"It's so funny - men and their wallpaper," she said. "It's the craziest thing."

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