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How a couple put together the Puzzle Nerds, Toronto’s only jigsaw store

Like many folks, partners Deborah Corner and Jo-Anne Bergeron were laid off during the pandemic. They had always dreamed of opening their own business but weren’t sure what to do. It turns out the answer to their entrepreneurial conundrum lay right in their lap — on a wooden puzzle board.

“Doing puzzles brings me a sense of calm and organization, and I can let my mind wander while I’m working toward completing the puzzle,” Corner says. “I often throw on a podcast or an audiobook if I’m working solo, or Jo and I just chat and puzzle with a glass of wine if we are working on one together.”

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

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

They found shopping for truly showstopping puzzles challenging, so, they wondered, why not sell those beauties themselves? “We knew puzzles were gaining popularity during the pandemic, but it was hard to find unique, small-brand, modern puzzles in one space,” Bergeron says. “We wanted to offer that with the focus being on the art and supporting fresh new brands.”

They started the Puzzle Nerds as an online shop in February 2021, then moved into a brick-and-mortar location in the Junction last September, opening Toronto’s only shop dedicated to jigsaw puzzles. “We knew how great (the shop) could look, given the incredible artwork, and we had had such amazing feedback from our online customers about the assortment,” Corner says. “The puzzles on the shelf really do speak for themselves.”

So what puzzles make the cut for the discerning Puzzle Nerds? Bergeron and Corner consider a few details: where a brand is from, how widely available it is in Canada, whether it’s woman- or minority-owned, and if it’s Canadian or features Canadian art. The store stocks a nice array of local talent, including work by Darlene Kulig, who sells puzzles sell all over the world, and Arcadia Puzzles, which offers Toronto- and Canadian-themed options. (Its “Toronto in Motion” is a fun illustration of such landmarks as the CN Tower and Nathan Phillips Square, while “Canada, Eh!” is populated by the likes of Drake, Justin Bieber, Tim Hortons and the TTC.)

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