Let’s take a walk to the other side of Main Street.
The location of Stedmans V & S has a lot of history. If you have come this far with me, you know I’ve been curious about taking a glimpse back into the past.
“The building has been here forever and it’s been many things,” says Rhonda Meisner, current manager of Stedmans. “People remember it. They remember the bowling alley or the 5 To A Dollar Store. It’s pretty incredible.”
The name, G.F. Hodgins, is visible on the second storey of the building. G.F. Hodgins ran a General Store on Main Street and he is listed at the Pontiac Archives in the ‘Shawville Business Directory’ for 1895. Is this, perhaps, its original location?
There is also a photo of the building, when R.P. Eades had his General Store. A sign outside lists ‘Groceries, Fresh and Cured Meats, Dry Goods, Shoes, Men’s Wear, Furniture, Wall Paper.’
Dean & Merritt’s also put in time as a Grocery and General Store.
Carolyn Meisner, Rhonda’s mother, uncovered information that Mr and Mrs Emerson Cotie bought the building from G.F Hodgins in 1932. Yet, the 5 To A Dollar business actually started down the street near the Corner Store.
Richard Meisner, Rhonda’s father, had been a district manager for Stedmans, a business founded in 1907 at Brantford, Ontario. In Richard’s time the franchise included the stores called ‘5 To A Dollar.’ Shawville was in Meisner’s district and he bought it when the Cotie’s put it up for sale.
Richard and Carolyn moved in the apartment upstairs and started working in 1973. Although the two of them now have a house in town, they still help out, even though, according to Rhonda, her parents are semi-retired.
The Meisners decided to expand, after a section of the store that Laurie Mackechnie shared for his own business caught fire.
Over the Meisners 41 years, Marsha Dupelle (Hodgins) played a role from 1988 to 1994, from age 14 to 20. Now with three kids of her own and living in Embrun, ON, the pull of Stedmans remains strong.
“My kids have to go to Stedmans every time we are in town and so do I,” says Marsha. “It was a great place to work. The Meisners were great people to work for. I grew up at Stedmans. I was a cashier. Worked every Friday night from 5-9 and Saturday from 9-5 and every Christmas break and every day in the summer.”
“City people loved it too in my days,” Marsha adds. “They loved the small town service and the back-to-school specials. For a short time we sold groceries, non-perishable items. Getting film developed was a big service we provided. Sidewalk sales were big too and our shift was never done until we swept floors.”
“The store looks pretty much the same. They had more of a clothing section than they do now. It was pretty busy in my days…especially during Christmas, Easter and back-to-school. Two cashes lined up. At Christmas we would have four people on cash, two on the registers and two bagging the items.”
Like Marsha, Rhonda has put in a lot of time working at Stedmans.
“I started to work here when I was 12,” Rhonda says from behind the counter, stopping to interact with customers. “Some time or another I was working here. When I was working and living in Ottawa, I would come home and work here on the weekends. So, I think I’m good at this business, the buying and the customer relations. I’ve done it my whole life.”
Rhonda decided three summers ago to also take over managing duties to lighten the load from her parents, who were in the process of closing down the store entirely.
“I know it’s a job, but it’s just a great way to spend my time,” says Rhonda. “Every day I get to buy something different, meet someone new or meet the same person I saw yesterday because they are a good repeat customer. It gives me a lot of satisfaction. When I’m not here, being on the floor as a sales associate or in the office managing the back end stuff, ordering, talking to vendors, checking on the back orders and my parents still do a lot of it. Then there’s working at home, bookkeeping and things I do that can’t be done here. So, working when I want to? No. Making a million dollars? No. Look at my parents. Last year was 40 years in business. They are here every morning, they are happy and smiling, they’re interacting with people. It’s what they do. I think I’ll end up like them. I also have a couple of good girls working and I’d love to afford more staff.”
The changing of times shown, the business isn’t quite as busy like it was back in the day. Or even during Marsha’s stint as cashier. Rhonda acknowledges that fact.
“I was given the opportunity to change up some product lines, bring it forward a little bit and try to compete in a different way. We compete with all the businesses in town because everyone sells the same stuff. So if you got the pie and you got 10 players, then everybody gets a tenth of the pie. I sell blenders. W.A Hodgins sells blenders, Canadian Tire has a blender. Customers are just going look around until they find a blender they like, or they are here and they will buy it here and the next thing they need. So, pieces of our pie were getting smaller, there were more players within the general merchandise game. We wanted to find some categories, we knew we sold better. We sold more of and we had better access to better goods. I wanted a corner of home décor, not your standard home décor or plain bathroom fixtures. I wanted the unique stuff, the country stuff, the signs and candles. I wanted that to become a destination, something people come specifically for and to make traffic.”
“The less we have in town, the more likely it is for people to spend their money elsewhere. That’s a huge concern now. They are going for groceries, gas and big ticket items. Everything is in such close proximity. So we need to focus on shopping local.”
Although Stedmans is coined as a Department Store, Rhonda believes a Variety Store is a better term. There are toys, home décor, greeting cards, small appliances, bedding, pillowcases, pillows, sheets, bathrooms towels, kitchen towels, kitchen curtains, yarn, a pet section, house ware, kitchen related like soup ladles, can openers, basic kitchen stuff and laundry baskets, cleaning products, ironing boards, brooms, mops, ladies clothing and bagged candy.
“We do tremendous business with stationary and school supplies, pens and pencils that’s an everyday sale,” says Rhonda. “Even with the invention of smartphones, people still make lists and need pens.”
Stedmans is open Monday to Friday 8:30 to 5:30 and Saturday 8:30 to 5.
Rhonda has been debating the profitability of opening on Sundays. No doubt more challenges and changes will come, that kept this business going in the same building for 82 years.
By: Scott Campbell