AMHERST, N.S. — Eleanor Ripley insists, despite evidence to the contrary, it’s a time for celebration. Ripley is among the many customers visiting Dayle’s department store this week, in Amherst, N.S., to say goodbye.
More than a century after it opened in 1906, under the name The Two Barkers, Dayle’s is closing.
“A little WD-40 [grease] will fix you right up, Eleanor,” shouts her friend, Sharon Duffy, as Ripley tries in vain to spin on a stool left over from the store’s glory days.
Ripley laughs, intent on making the best of a sad situation.
But, upon reflection, she admits this is an emotional time.
“Patterns of shopping have changed. But it still doesn’t make it any easier to sit here and know that, in a few weeks, we won’t be able to come in here.”
The current owners, Don and Karen Cormier, have decided keeping Dayle’s open is futile.
“We tried a lot of things,” says Karen, a daughter of the Margolian family that owned the store for several decades beginning in 1955.
“We opened up the coffee shop. We tried a market. The spending just isn’t there. We’re an old department store, it’s expensive to keep it going.”
The department store is 10 times larger than a big house, with 16-foot ceilings made of tin and row-upon-row of posts made from British Columbia Douglas fir.
It’s a marvel to behold.
But, quaint, creaky floors and warm smiles don’t pay the bills.
Like towns across Canada, the Amherst business district has been transformed into a maze of chain stores — attracting customers with lower prices than Dayle’s can offer.
For much of its long history, it was more than a store; It was a community centre of sorts.
It was so popular at times, the Cormiers called in the police for crowd-control.
Ripley’s friend, Sharon Duffy, also has fond memories.
“I’ve shopped here all my life. From the time I was a small child, my mother brought me here,” she tells Global News. “I’ve bought things for my children here, for my husband, for my friends.”
Dayle’s allowed regulars to buy on credit right up until a few months ago when the Cormiers made the painful decision to quit, sidelining their business along with about 40 jobs.
“Knowing that they would be out of work was a lot of pressure,” says Don. “We had a son and a daughter working in the business as well.”
Roger Dorrington has worked here for almost four decades, since he was 16 years old.
“I know something about most of my customers,” he says. “I wouldn’t know your name, but, I remember your foot size or something about you.”
Customers say his can-do attitude and natural, friendly personality are hard to find at some other retailers.
Dayle’s is selling off its dwindling inventory, along with original tables and other fixtures from the old days.
In a couple of weeks, the store will be empty. The 30,000-square-foot building will then go up for sale, but it’s future status is unclear.
It could be business opportunity for someone else, or a burdensome relic of a bygone era.
When asked if people will have such warm feelings about modern chains with cookie-cutter design and bland personality, Amherst Mayor Rob Small offers a gracious, chuckling response.
“I don’t know if they’ll feel that way, but it’s possible,” he says.