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British shops in Canada see demand for King Charles goods, despite royal drama

When Queen Elizabeth died in September, Carl Hulme happened to be in England — the perfect spot to scoop up commemorative fine bone china, tea towels and canvas bags to stock his Blimeys British Store and Gift Shop in Essex, Ont.
Rita and Carl Hulme stand with King Charles merchandise at Blimeys British Store and Gift Shop in Essex, Ont. on Sunday, April 16, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nicole Osborne

When Queen Elizabeth died in September, Carl Hulme happened to be in England — the perfect spot to scoop up commemorative fine bone china, tea towels and canvas bags to stock his Blimeys British Store and Gift Shop in Essex, Ont.

Most of it sold by the time goods marking King Charles' May 6 coronation were arriving at his shop about 30 kilometres from the Windsor-Detroit border.

But with the new sovereign's popularity lower than his mother's and recent royals drama stirring up calls for Commonwealth countries to reject the monarchy, Hulme and others were uncertain there would be much of a market for King Charles memorabilia in Canada.

"With the queen, most of us grew up with her. That's the only monarch that we ever knew and so with the passing of the queen, it kind of brought an end to an era, so I wasn't sure," Hulme said.

His doubts have since been dashed as Victoria Eggs cups and saucers with a coronation motif and Emma Bridgewater mugs celebrating the King's reign have sold at a steady clip at Blimeys.

Elsewhere in Canada and online, one can find Charles- and coronation-themed coins, stamps, Nespresso coffee pods, McVitie’s biscuit tins, Royal Scot Crystal decanters and dresses, pyjamas, pillows, socks, makeup bags and crown-topped teddy bears from Marks & Spencer.

Joanne McNeish, a Toronto Metropolitan University professor specializing in marketing, suspects the array of products will delight Canadian monarchists, royalists, memorabilia collectors and many who just want something to mark a historical moment.

"People love a big event and the closer to the event, the more the idea of having something to remember it will ramp up, so within Canada... I definitely think there's an appetite," she said.

She suspects most of that interest will come from older shoppers, who have more of an attachment to anything historical, but said Gen Z is becoming increasingly fond of nostalgic items too.

She estimates collectors of memorabilia or people who pick items up now in hopes of selling them for a profit years later will only make up five per cent of buyers.

Between celebrations, memorabilia, books and tourism, the Centre for Retail Research in Norfolk, England estimates more than £1.4 billion ($2.3 billion) will be spent on the coronation by U.K. consumers.

The centre's director, Joshua Bamfield, estimated "overseas enthusiasts" will generate £79 million ($132 million) in sales.

"Most of this will be U.S., of course, but I would have thought that spending by Canadians on coronation merchandise would be around £8 million ($13 million) naturally," he wrote in an email to The Canadian Press.

"Canadians will come as tourists to see and engage in the coronation, but I would not have thought the Canadian delegation would be greater than 2,000 to 3,000."

It's hard for McNeish to predict how strong Canadian sales tied to the King's coronation will be or how it will compare to interest in memorabilia tied to his mother, Queen Elizabeth.

When Elizabeth took the throne in 1953, many watched the spectacle on newly-purchased televisions and commemorative tchotchkes might have seemed inappropriate. 

Since then, television has lost its novelty with the dawn of livestreaming anywhere and on any device and it's seldom that a big event is not turned into a marketing opportunity that is milked for profit.

But the queen's death stirred up fond sentiments for many who saw her as a grandmother-like figure.

"The queen was different in that the queen was finite and there was a coming to an end," McNeish said.

"When people are going to die or even after their deaths, there tends to be a bigger explosion in acquiring something (linked to them)."

The queen remains the most popular royal with 80 per cent of British respondents to YouGov polling completed in the first quarter of the year having a positive opinion of her.

She is followed by her daughter, Princess Anne, then her grandson William, the Prince of Wales and his wife, Catherine, Princess of Wales.

King Charles is the fifth most popular royal, with 55 per cent of people surveyed saying they have a positive opinion of him.

The breakdown of his marriage to the late Princess Diana and her assertions that his second wife, Queen Consort Camilla, was to blame spurred much of the public dislike of the King. His son, Prince Harry, who recently departed royal life, levelling mistreatment allegations at his family, did not help the King's appeal.

However, Hulme said consumers are sympathetic to the King.

"The majority are buying because they feel that Charles has been somewhat put in such a bad light by Harry and (Duchess of Sussex) Meghan. They feel they want to support him in some way."

While Little Taste of Home, a British and Irish shop near Calgary had yet to receive its order of King Charles spoons, cups, mugs and plates by mid-April, patrons had been asking about when they'd arrive for weeks.

"It's a lot of people that are from England who want to do what they can at this side of the pond for celebrating his coronation," said worker Diane Dennis.

"Then, there's a few people who collect things just because it's once in a lifetime."

Asked whether the royal drama was putting off shoppers at the New Horizon Mall store, she added, "Oh, no, no, definitely not."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 1, 2023.

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press

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