In 1947, Jack and Bill Mills set up a small coffee shop, aptly named Mills Brothers, in the 900 block of Central Avenue. It was a small space, but it rapidly became a very popular spot. Good coffee and good conversation were the order of the day.
Next door was the CN Telegraph Office. When the telegraph office moved, Jack and Bill quickly expanded into the space. Full course meals were added.
For whatever reason, Jack and Bill dropped the cafe idea and changed their restaurant into a magazine, newspaper, and confectionery store. Despite the change, the outlet remained prosperous for many years.
Jack Cennon, of CKBI Radio fame, became a close patron of Mills Brothers, which he often dubbed ‘The Mules Brothers.’ Cennon became a good friend of the two brothers, and the trio often enjoyed much joshing back and forth with the two brothers giving Cennon back as good as they received. Cennon’s on air ‘palaver’ about the store served to add to the popularity of this P.A. ‘institution.’
So it was an easy decision for Nestor Hrycuik, the owner of Frank’s Cigar Store, that existed at the other end of Central Avenue, to purchase Mills Brothers when Jack Mills considered selling in 1972.
Jack and Nestor were good friends. In fact Jack was the bookkeeper for both stores. This often amazed people, as they would comment to Nestor, “How can you let your main competitor know so much about your business?”
“Both stores flourished; that’s just the way it was. My store specialized in novelty items, Jack’s centered around newspapers and magazines. We were never real competitors”
Nestor ran both stores for a short period. Mrs. Chris Martz ran Mills Brothers for Nestor. “Christine was an excellent manager,” Nestor stressed. “We worked well together. Mills Brothers continued to prosper.”
When it came time for Nestor to close Frank’s Cigar Store, due to the construction of Orpheum Plaza, it was, Nestor states, “A logical decision for me to amalgamate the two stores and move to the other end of Central.”
When the City Market outlet, next to Eagle’s Stationary, became available, Nestor bought the property. Soon, Mills Brothers doubled its size.
With the City Market acquisition came a meat counter and coolers. They were a big drawing item. Nestor did not neglect his novelty items, nor the magazine and newspaper section of the previous Mills Brothers. “In fact, I expanded those areas of the store a fair bit,’ Nestor explained.
Major newspapers such as: ‘The Globe and Mail’, ‘The Financial Post’ and ‘Le Devoir’ (of Quebec fame) were added, all of which attracted new patrons to the store.
At the start of this column, there was the heading, ‘Here comes Clyne. It must be Monday.’ That reference relates to another newspaper that drew customers to the expanded Mills Brothers. The newspaper was the ‘Sunday Edition of The New York Times.’ Nestor had contacted the ‘Times’ and they proved happy to send, by air mail and bus, several copies each week. They arrived in time for Nestor to sell them Monday morning. “Clyne Harradence was always there bright and early to get his copy.” Clyne and Nestor had a good chat each Monday morning, and they became good friends.
With its expanded newspaper and magazine section, its coolers and meat counter along with a growing array of confectionery items from Eastern Canada, the United States and Europe, Nestor’s Mills Brothers prospered and remained a major attraction in downtown P.A.
But what about those ‘Girlie Magazines,’ I spoke about last time. Well, they came over from Frank’s, but Nestor’s sister, who joined Nestor to work in the new outlet, warned Nestor that that section of the store discouraged female patrons. Nestor, who had always wisely paid heed to his older sister, listened. Subscriptions were cancelled. And, yes his sister, as usual, was right. Business increased.
Nestor relates, “I fell in love with Mills Brothers. It was really a P.A. store. I loved ordering, unpacking and displaying what we bought. I had enjoyed a career in Journalism, but now I was my own boss. It felt good to get up and go to work – even seven days a week.”
But, Nestor knew when to end a good thing, In 1992, Nestor sold Mills Brothers.
And when he woke up the following Sunday, Nestor told his wife Connie, “Wow, I can sleep in. I don’t have to go to the store!”
Thank you Nestor. ‘Frank’s’ and ‘Mills Brothers’ left you a bunch of memories, and us too.