Glace Bay, NS – Earl Morgan remembers people staring at the test model on one of the first TVs in Glace Bay.
“My family ran a shop in New Aberdeen called Morgan’s Dairy and we sold everything,” said the longtime owner of Arlie’s Gifts and Fashions on Commercial Street.
“We had the first televisions in town. We had one in our house and one that was set up in the shop window. We made it before it even aired and people stood outside and stared at the rehearsal pattern, mesmerized. Can you imagine it now? “
Morgan has fond memories of the time when family businesses were at the heart of the community. He said he remembers when there were as many as 20 small shops in the Hub and New Aberdeen districts of the former coal mining town. He said only one of these shops now serves the area.
“It was a good time to do business,” he said.
“In those days we sold everything from candies, three for a penny, 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 came back out the door very quickly due to demand.
Morgan, who began his 58-year career as a pharmacist, now mourns the disappearance of the family-owned shop. He has only recently announced that he will be closing Arlie’s Fashion and Gifts. Popular Commercial Street has been in business for more than a quarter of a century. Everything is on sale as he tries to get rid of stocks before putting the closing sign forever. For now, there is no timeline. And, since he advertised his sale, the store has been busy.
But it is another case of too little, too late. Morgan still values every single customer and does not hold them responsible for the pending closure. Although business has declined over the past decade, he said the latest challenge was the pandemic. And he blames the impact of COVID.
“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 just killed the business. Some days we had five clients, people just didn’t go out. “
Both Baddeck and Sydney stores have since closed and its flagship store will soon follow.
At 77, Morgan believes he is finally okay with the retirement. He lives off Trout Brook Road and can’t wait to spend more time enjoying the Mira River. But while he may have reconciled his feelings about him for his retirement, he admits that he is not ending his business the way he had imagined.
“We noticed that the business started to decline about 10 years ago,” he admitted.
“We have lost many older customers 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 has really hurt. There is nothing we can do about it.
“When I started in pharmacy after graduating from Dalhousie University, I think I can name about 40 companies that were down here and they were all thriving. We had about three or four grocery stores, three jewelers, there were only three pharmacies but now there are many more. People’s shopping habits have changed. “
LOYAL PATRONS AND STAFF
With the closure comes the loss of jobs. But Morgan knows where his employees are in his life. He noted that staff members 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 hurting them too much,” he said.
With the closing sale notice attracting more and more customers, 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 loyal, longtime customers and new shoppers checking out the balances. In the side area that used to be Medicine Hall Pharmacy, Francine O’Neill was found looking for that something special on one of the many well-stocked clothing racks.
“I’ve been coming here forever and I will miss it, it’s sad that it has to close,” he said.
Away from the busy workshop, Earl Morgan sat down at the office desk and summed up his feelings about Arlie’s closing after such a long run.
“I agree not to do it again, but I’m sad it has to end this way,” he said.
“In recent years, Arlie’s has led me to semi-retirement. There have been a lot of things I liked about the business. I enjoyed shopping, shopping, looking at new items. When we started, it was all about the gifts. Then we decided to put on the clothes and it was one of the best decisions we made. But this too is changing “.
But life is change. And Morgan has seen many. 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 the retail business. He also took the 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 proudest achievements is the advice he once gave to his three children.
“I told them to train for health care because there will always be jobs everywhere in that profession,” Morgan said.
They followed his advice.
Son Kyle is a chiropractor. Son Gavin is a pharmacist. And daughter Arlie, after whom the store got its name, is an occupational therapist.
Morgan has one last piece of advice for Cape Breton residents.
“Shop locally – these businesses are an important part of our communities and they need your support,” he said.
David Jala is a multimedia reporter for the Cape Breton Post