How Ottawa’s oldest businesses are making it worse with COVID-19

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Frisby Tire’s flagship location on Lyon Street in 1920. (Submitted by Don Frisby)

They survived catastrophic events like the Spanish flu, two world wars and the Great Depression.

How are some of Ottawa’s most venerable businesses coping with the coronavirus pandemic?

The CBC asked how it was doing.

Chateau Lafayette, East. 1849

No problem: artists have been hired to decorate the closed shops of the Ottawa Byward Market, including the venerable Château Lafayette, billed as Ottawa’s oldest tavern. (Mario Carlucci / CBC)

General manager Deek Labelle gave birth in mid-March and is safe at home with little Nathan while his ByWard market baby, Château Lafayette, remains closed.

“The Laff”, touted as Ottawa’s oldest tavern, dates back to 1849 and is still alive.

“It’s hard to believe. The fact that he’s still there and survives and thrives speaks volumes, “said Labelle. “I don’t want to spoil it. “

She had a difficult time, but nothing like it.

“It is the most difficult we have ever endured. The smoking regulations would be closest to him, for the severity of an overnight change. “

To survive the crackdown on smoking in Ottawa, the venerable water hole has been cut in half, half becoming a Quiznos franchise so that the remaining bar can be sustained.

Unlike other establishments, The Laff did not remain open to take away or deliver during the pandemic.

“The bar is the experience. You can’t take it off, “observed Labelle.

Labelle hopes to reopen this summer and plans to request a larger patio so that customers, upon their return, can thrive and have fun like they used to.

“We just want to see our regulars, our friends. These are people we see weekly, if not daily. “

Marchand Electric, East. 1892

Jacques Marchand is the fourth generation owner of Marchand Electric on Algoma Road. (Simone Marchand)

Jacques Marchand can trace the lighting and electricity activities of his family for three generations.

“My father’s father’s father,” said Marchand proudly. This is the fourth.

Founded just 14 years after Thomas Edison unveiled the first practical incandescent bulb, Marchand Electric has had its share of history. Now the company is trying to survive COVID-19.

“We’ve already had experience with slowdowns, and the trick … is to react quickly. You have to look at your costs and your staff. Unfortunately, we had to fire some people, ”said Marchand.

Skeleton personnel continue to work at the Algoma Road site. Retail sales were limited to online shopping, but the store was seen as an essential service as it supplies hospitals.

There are already signs that things are picking up: Marchand has recalled three of the six people he fired.

“So we made the guys work in the warehouse. They also work on stocks and painting floors. Job creation projects. You have to keep these employees, ”he said.

Marchand also tries to convince his customers to plan – and order – in advance.

“Do you have a project to come?” Why don’t we talk about it now instead of panicking at the last minute, in two months? “

ER Fisher Menswear, Est. 1905

Peter Fisher, vice president of ER Fisher, and Sonia Fisher, president of the men’s clothing retailer. (Miv Fournier / MivPhotography / Westboro Studio)

Sonia Fisher is a fourth generation supplier of quality men’s clothing, a retail business created by her great-grandfather, Emerson Ralph Fisher, 115 years ago.

It was ER Fisher who brought the company through the years of depression. Part of the company’s tradition is that “it didn’t fire one person,” said Sonia Fisher. At the time, the company cut its hours, but stayed open.

With COVID-19, things are different. Forced to close the Westboro store, Fisher had to fire 12 workers.

“I did not want the company to end up in a situation where we deteriorated five to six months later,” she said.

ER Fisher Menswear survived the wars, the Spanish flu, the depression and the fashion of the 1970s. (Submitted by Sonia Fisher)

Most of the spring merchandise had already been delivered, but “everything that hadn’t happened, we canceled it,” said Fisher. They are already reducing their fall orders.

“It will take time for people to regain confidence in the economy,” said Fisher, “so we expect sales to drop over the next year. “

Unlike other retailers, ER Fisher does not sell online. Personal service has always been its hallmark. Now, Fisher admits that it may be time to update this business model.

“It is certainly something that we will intensify. This is a sore point for me because I fear that I should have done it a little earlier. “

McIntosh and Watts, Est. 1906

Peter McIntosh is a fourth generation supplier of fine tableware and porcelain who has now had to adapt the family business to survive COVID-19. (Charlotte McIntosh)

McIntosh and Watts started out as an emporium of coffee and tea, with horse and buggy deliveries.

“We could have been Starbucks,” jokes the company’s fourth generation president, Peter McIntosh, who has been selling porcelain and tableware for 35 years.

His grandfather, Grant McIntosh, was stationed in England during the Second World War and established links in factories manufacturing fine porcelain, which he began to export to Canada, away from German bombs.

“They have adapted. They did everything they could to keep it running, “said McIntosh. “This is how you have to survive. “

Fast forward to 2020. The Industrial Avenue store has been closed since mid-March, with the company’s online and wholesale operations now operating from McIntosh’s home.

“We are adapting. We are working hard on the parts of our business that we can continue to develop. We just cut everything down, ”said McIntosh.

Frisby Tire, East. 1920

Don Frisby is the owner of Frisby Tire, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary in the midst of a pandemic. (Michelle Valberg)

“Frisby the Vulcanizer” was created by Don Frisby’s great uncle, George Frisby, when he was released after the First World War.

The company survived the Great Depression, but Don Frisby said he had never heard the stories of how they had succeeded.

“They were … men of few words. All these guys were doing was work. “

Deemed essential, the company was allowed to stay open, but retail customers stayed away and business fell 30%. It was a “double whammy,” said Frisby, arriving in what is normally one of his busiest seasons.

He responded by resetting his expectations.

“My goal has always been to keep as many people as possible at work and to stay open and forget about being profitable. We just want to be able to continue operating as a business, ”said Frisby.

Only one of its 100 employees was the subject of a layoff notice. “Our seller on the road, that no one wants to see. Poor guy, “said Frisby.

So why not leave a little more until this thing explodes?

“From my great-uncle and my father and up to me, we have always understood … that our customers and the people who care for our customers are the most important aspect of the business,” said Frisby.

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