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Calgary’s smallest business is under your nose on 17th Avenue SW

When you think of a small business, you might think of a food truck, a home-based business, or someone who runs a booth at a farmer’s market.

But how big is Calgary’s smallest brick-and-mortar business? We went looking and we think we’ve found the answer: Roughly 16 square feet.

Frank Keller is a tarot card reader who has operated on 17 Ave SW for nearly two decades.

A couple years ago, his old office was being demolished to make way for a new building, and right around that same time, a space he had had his eye on for a long time became available.

Starting in April of 1999, Keller was set up directly across the street from his current tiny space. His office was about 1,100 square feet, with his business in the front and an apartment in the back.

“When I went in there I wasn’t intending to be one guy. I was going to have other readers and other modalities and other stuff,” he said.

The tiny space across the street had always caught his eye,

“I was always sitting across the street saying, ‘Why? Why did that come up after I landed here?’”

For most of that time, the space was used as a tiny art gallery known by different names, including Sugar Cube and Le Fenetre.

But then the stars aligned for Keller in 2016. He got notice that his building would be demolished to make way for a new build. At the same time, his landlord purchased the building across the street with the tiny space.

He had been the building manager in his old building, so he made the pitch to continue in that role, in exchange for rent in the tiny space.

“Originally I didn’t want anything bigger than this, because overhead’s the killer,” said Keller.

His business is in what was essentially a broom closet – a small space under the stairs at 724 – 17 Avenue SW.

“I’ve measured it. Three and half feet by five feet and a few inches,” he said.

It does have a picture window which features advertising for his business, although he keeps a curtain up permanently. The sun beating in during the summer quickly makes the room too hot without the curtain.

Keller sits in a folding chair, with a tiny table between him and his customer who sits in another folding chair. There is room for two people to sit across from him, if need be.

The walls are covered in fabric. There’s a single electrical outlet in the corner behind his seat, though he doesn’t use it in the summer time. In the winter he uses it for a small space heater.

“I was here about two months and someone broke in,” said Keller. “Funny enough I had a heater in here, and they stole it. But they left my tarot cards.”

There’s also a smoke detector on the ceiling, and perhaps the most out-of-place item – an official City of Calgary Business Licence up on the wall.

That means closet or not, his space is legit. He even has a mailbox in the hallway outside his door.

“It’s the gold one,” Keller says with a laugh. “I painted it. And then the post office made me write the number on it.”

Keller is happy with his space, but he knows the future is in the cards, and that progress will come sooner or later for him and the other tenants in the building.

“We’re safe for three-to-five years, but at some point the wrecking ball is going to be here,” he said.

“You never know, (the landlord) might tear down and build me a closet right here. How many people need a tiny office?”