As I write this, we in Prince Albert celebrate the re-opening of some of our business enterprises. But there will be losses as Covid-19 takes its toll. It is inevitable, but sad. I along with you wish our businesses the best of recovery.
Recently, it was announced that Gail Carlson will be closing her Art Gallery on Central Avenue. The Gallery’s loss of business due to the pandemic was just too much. I taught Gail at Prince Albert Technical High School (now Carlton Comprehensive), and so I was personally sad to hear the news. Gail grew up in Prince Albert and had fond memories of the ‘hey day’ of Central Avenue. She wanted to be part of the re-growth of downtown. Her shop was meant to not just bring artistic wonders to the street, but also foster foot traffic and opportunities for interpersonal contacts – opportunities that help shape the type of town from which we all benefit.
Sorry Gail. Thank you for sharing your dream with us. I wish you all the best in the days to come.
But Gail’s shop did not sell - ‘Girlie Magazines,’ so what does the title of this column have to do with the sad news of her shop’s closing?
Well, I decided to take a look at what Central Avenue was like in the days when it was truly the shopping centre of our city. To do so I turned to my friend Nestor Hryciuk, as he was very much a part of the busy life on Central Avenue during the 1970’s and 1980’s.
As we sat over coffee in the outdoors, practising proper social distancing, at one of our local coffee shops, Nestor and I discussed how Prince Albert grew because it was a place that fostered social interactions long before social distancing was necessary, and was known to the First Nations and Metis that lived here as a ‘good gathering place.’
That gathering place attracted missionaries and daring entrepreneurs.
Early farmers, churches, fur traders, lumber merchants, river boat enterprises, and accompanying service industries came and created our city.
Prince Albert being a remote settlement, far from supply sources, was a daunting challenge for early business ventures. Out of that heritage came those willing to take the risks necessary for permanent growth.
That was the heritage and the challenge that Nestor brought to his wife one evening in 1970. He suddenly decided to leave a flourishing career in journalism. “What the devil are you going to do?” Nestor’s wife Connie exclaimed. “I don’t really know.” was the reply.
But ‘Lefty’ Don Trann, a local real estate agent, had the answer – Frank’s Cigar Store is up for sale. Frank Hickey, the original owner, had purchased the Central Fruit and Candy Kitchen which was next door to the Orpheum Theatre, and changed the name to Frank’s Cigar Store. It, of course, provided high end cigars as well as magazines, ‘girlie’ ones too, newspapers, candy, and many, many novelty items. The store benefiting from its proximity to the theatre prospered. Many patrons stopped to acquire goodies prior to attending the movie.
Eventually, Frank sold his business. But Frank went with the business. He stayed to work behind the counter. Frank was a colourful character, with whom the customers enjoyed kibitzing.
Later, when Nestor purchased the building in 1970, Frank was still behind the counter. Nestor says the store was a bit dishevelled in appearance, demanding some touch ups and dusting. Frank was known to have told customers, as he blew the dust off an item, “We don’t charge extra for the dust.”
With Nestor’s energy, wise additions to the merchandise provided, in particular the acquisition of Laura Secord Chocolates, and Frank’s good humour, the store flourished. Halloween, Nestor remembers, was like Christmas in terms of sales – the store was stocked with high end Halloween masks and they sold big time with big profits.
Then the roof fell in – fell in literally. A decision was made to build a pedestrian walkway, crossing above Central Avenue, connecting the east and west side shops. This construction, combined with the building of the Orpheum Plaza, led to the demolishing of the Frank’s Cigar Store site.
Nestor was upset, but not deterred.
What happened next remains for another column – as well as what happened to the ‘Girlie Magazines.’