Landmark Glace Bay store closure: Owner of Arlie’s Fashion and Gifts says COVID pandemic has effectively killed a longtime family business

Earl Morgan is the owner of Arlie’s Fashion and Gifts. “The pandemic just killed the business,” he said. DAVID JALA/CAPE BRETON POST – David Jala

Glace Bay, NS “Earl Morgan remembers people watching the pattern on one of the first television sets in Glace Bay.

“My family ran a store in New Aberdeen called Morgan’s Dairy and we sold everything,” the longtime owner of Arlie’s Gifts and Fashions on Commercial Street said.

“We had the first televisions in town. We had one at home and one installed in the store window. We had it set up before it even went live and people were standing outside and just staring at the test model, mesmerized. Can you imagine that now?

Morgan has fond memories of when family businesses were the heart of the community. He said he remembered when there were as many as 20 small shops in the Hub and New Aberdeen neighborhoods of the former mining town. He said only one such store now serves the area.

“It was a good time to be in business,” he said.

“At that time, we were selling everything from sweets, three for a cent, to boats, to meat, to refrigerators, to stoves. We had everything people wanted. I remember when the fridges were new and when we got an order they would go back very quickly because of the demand. »

SHOP CLOSING

Morgan, who began his 58-year business career as a pharmacist, now laments the demise of the family store. He only recently announced that he was closing Arlie’s Fashion and Gifts. The popular Commercial Street establishment has been around for more than a quarter of a century. Everything is on sale as he tries to clear the stock before putting up the sign closed for good. For the moment, there is no timetable. And, ever since he announced his quitting sale, the store has been busy.

But this is another case of too little, too late. Morgan always appreciates every customer and does not hold them responsible for the impending closure. Even though business has dwindled over the past decade, he said the latest challenge was the pandemic. And he blames the impacts of COVID squarely.

“It’s the pandemic,” he said.

“Three years ago I had an Arlie’s store in Baddeck, one in Sydney and one here in Glace Bay. But you could see the business disappearing, especially in Baddeck. The pandemic has just killed the company. Some days we had five customers, people just didn’t come out. »

The Baddeck and Sydney stores have since closed and its flagship store will soon follow.

The floor has been busy lately at Arlie's Fashion and Gifts in Glace Bay.  The Commercial Street store is closing soon due to COVID.  DAVID JALA/CAPE BRETON POST - David Jala
The floor has been busy lately at Arlie’s Fashion and Gifts in Glace Bay. The Commercial Street store is closing soon due to COVID. DAVID JALA/CAPE BRETON POST – David Jala

RETIREMENT

At 77, Morgan feels he’s finally okay with retirement. He lives on Trout Brook Road and looks forward to spending more time enjoying the Mira River. But while he may have reconciled his feelings about his own retirement, he admits he’s not finishing his business the way he envisioned.

“We noticed that business started to decline about 10 years ago,” he admitted.

“We have lost a lot of older clients who were sick or deceased. And they were truly dedicated customers. Sure, we still have a few, but not enough. And, of course, online shopping really hurt. We can’t do anything about it.

“When I started working in pharmacy after graduating from Dalhousie University, I think I could name about 40 businesses that were located here and they were all successful. We had about three or four grocery stores, three jewelry stores, there were only three pharmacies but now there are many more. People’s shopping habits have changed.

Arlie employees Joan McCormick, left, and Marlene MacKenzie are longtime friendly faces at the Commercial Street store.  DAVID JALA/CAPE BRETON POST - David Jala
Arlie employees Joan McCormick, left, and Marlene MacKenzie are longtime friendly faces at the Commercial Street store. DAVID JALA/CAPE BRETON POST – David Jala

LOYAL CUSTOMERS AND STAFF

With the closure comes the loss of jobs. But Morgan knows where his employees are in life. He noted that staffers Joan McCormick and Marlene MacKenzie are at the point where retirement is an option. His longtime store manager, Joe Roach, has been with him for more than three decades.

“There’s never a good time to close a business, but at least I knew my staff were nearing retirement, so I knew I could close without it hurting them too much,” he said. he declares.

With the closing sale notice attracting more and more customers, the women enjoyed joking with customers and each other.

“We love working here,” McCormick said.

MacKenzie added: “And we work for the best boss ever.”

Meanwhile, the store has been a mix of longtime loyal customers and new shoppers checking out the sale. In the side area that was once the Medicine Hall Pharmacy, Francine O’Neill was found looking for something special on one of the many well-stocked clothes racks.

“I’ve been coming here forever and I’m going to miss it, it’s sad that it has to close,” she said.

Francine O'Neill browses a clothes rack at Arlie's Fashion and Gifts in Glace Bay.  The Commercial Street store closes after more than a quarter of a century in business.  DAVID JALA/CAPE BRETON POST - David Jala
Francine O’Neill browses a clothes rack at Arlie’s Fashion and Gifts in Glace Bay. The Commercial Street store closes after more than a quarter of a century in business. DAVID JALA/CAPE BRETON POST – David Jala

HERITAGE

Away from the bustling workshop, Earl Morgan sat at his desk and summed up his feelings about Arlie shutting down after such a long run.

“I’m okay with not doing it anymore, but I’m sad it’s ending like this,” he said.

“Over the past few years, Arlie’s has given me access to semi-retirement. There were a lot of things that I liked about the company. I liked to shop, shop, look at what’s new. When we started, it was all about gifts. Then we decided to go with clothes and it was one of the best decisions we made. But that too is changing.

But life is change. And Morgan has seen a lot. He began working as a pharmacist at Medicine Hall, which he would eventually purchase from the late Stewart Sterns. Along the way, he branched out into retail. He also made time to volunteer for many community causes, including the Seaview Manor Seniors’ Foundation, which he chaired and is still a board member.

Ironically, one of his most proud accomplishments was the advice he once gave to his three children.

“I told them to train in health care because there will always be jobs anywhere in that profession,” Morgan said.

They followed his advice.

Son Kyle is a chiropractor. Son Gavin is a pharmacist. And his daughter Arlie, after whom the store is named, is an occupational therapist.

Morgan has one final piece of advice for Cape Bretoners.

“Buy local – these businesses are a big part of our communities and they need your support,” he said.

David Jala is a multimedia journalist at the Cape Breton Post