Celebrating his store’s 100th anniversary, Shuswap Clothing and Shoe Company’s Gerald Forman is used to comments about how he appears to be aging well.
“The only one I worry about is somebody coming in and saying I don’t look good for 100,” laughs Forman, who has owned the store on Alexander Street in downtown Salmon Arm since 2000, but began working with the Salmon Arm clothier two decades prior, when it was Beer’s Department Store, started by Clinton Beer.
Beer’s first Salmon Arm clothing store, the Quality Store, opened across from the Montebello Hotel on Alexander Street on Aug. 21, 1921 (located in the building that is currently home to the Shuswap Pie Company and Hidden Gems Bookstore). Later, as the store expanded, so did the name, to Beer’s Department Store.
Salmon Arm Museum archives indicate the Beer’s store expanded in 1927, 1931 and again in 1937. The Beer family also opened clothing stores in Armstrong and Princeton in the late 1920s and early ’30s.
According to Forman, Beer passed away in 1960 and the store was sold to Andy Morrison and a business partner who Morrison later bought out. Morrison ran the store with his wife before taking on two business partners, Graham Threlkeld and Art Kalke.
Forman began working for the store in 1980, when it had men’s, women’s and children’s clothing and footwear all under one roof.
“We used to keep the footwear in the upstairs area, and so if we got busy, there were times literally you were running up and down the steps to get work boots for customers, or cowboy boots because we kept those up there as well,” said Forman. “It was a lot of running back and forth. I definitely stayed in better shape.”
In 1987, Morrison sold the men’s clothing and footwear part of the business to Kalke and Threlkeld, and the two kept it going under the name Shuswap Clothing & Shoe Co. until 1996, when Threlkeld retired. Forman then bought 50 per cent of the business, and he and Kalke ran it until 2000 when Kalke died and he purchased the remainder from Kalke’s family.
Asked about fashion trends that have come and gone over that time, one Forman didn’t mind seeing go the way of the dodo were outfits from the days of disco.
“In my 40-plus years I’ve seen styles come back again; there are slight changes to them but not a huge change,” said Forman.
In that same time period, he’s seen changes in Salmon Arm’s downtown, including when Alexander used to be a two-way street. Currently, he said one of the bigger ongoing challenges for the downtown is parking.
“We always have to look forward to creating more parking and accessibility for everyone,” said Forman.
With the coming and going of larger department stores, and the growth of online shopping, Forman credits a couple of things for the ongoing success of his business: customer service and the quality of the products he sells.
“I always feel that if you treat people the way you’d like to be treated, that hopefully they’ll keep coming back. So far for us it’s worked well,” said Foreman, noting the store has loyal customers not just in Salmon Arm, but throughout Canada and elsewhere in the world.
Forman will be hosting a 100th anniversary celebration at the store on Wednesday, Aug. 25. He said there will be cake, refreshments, giveaways and prizes to be won.
Asked what has kept him going over the past 100, er, 40 years, Forman replied, without hesitation: the customers.
“I love meeting with people, chatting with them, finding out where they’re from.”
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