The Bleeker Mall has lost its namesake, with the owners of Bleeker Stereo & TV announcing Tuesday the store will close its doors after 56 years in business.
“We’ve been planning for this for a while,” said Rob Bleeker, whose father Hans founded the store. “You’ve seen our locations disappearing from the east end and Kanata and slowly consolidating things and trying to make it work. It’s definitely a sad day for us but we sat down as a family a while ago and said, 'Now’s the time. Let’s do it on our terms.'”
Mr. Bleeker said the trend toward online shopping is dramatically changing the retail landscape, and the family-owned business has watched sales and profit margins drop over the last couple of years.
“Our sort of service-oriented business doesn’t really work anymore,” he said. “Dad said two years ago, 'You know? All my competitors I started out with have disappeared. I wonder when it’s our turn.'”
It’s not just the independent retailer that is hurting, he said, pointing to the closure of all Future Shop stores last year and the recent announcement that Best Buy will close its South Keys location.
“They’re just riding out their leases. Once their leases are up, they get out of there and they say, ‘Yeah, we couldn’t make a deal with the landlord,' but the deal probably was they wanted half-price rent to be available to stay there,” Mr. Bleeker said. “The landlord’s not going to go with that either. It’s a convenient way for them to get out of there.”
Hans Bleeker, 80, started the business in 1960 from the garage of his house, which stood in the same spot as the lobby of today’s Bleeker Mall. Rob was four years old.
“He took the garage door out and put in a plate-glass window and that was his first store,” Rob said of his father. “From there he moved down to Richmond Road and soon expanded to Carling, and in 1971, the building on this corner came up for sale and he came in right away and snapped it up and said, ‘Yup, that’s the spot.’”
Over the next few years, Hans Bleeker gradually bought the houses on the block. By 1982, he was ready to build the Bleeker Mall, incorporating the store where it all began.
“We’ve always been in City View here. This is our end of town,” Rob Bleeker said.
Rob started working at the store in 1976 building TV stands and cleaning toilets. He worked various jobs before taking over operations from his dad but says his favourite job may have been after he got his driver’s licence and was able to make deliveries.
“That was a sweet job, on the road, hooking up sound systems and TVs. When you were setting up somebody’s turntable, you were a magician."
Hans Bleeker and his children all have shares in the business. They were all on board with the decision to close, and the soft date is set for the first of June.
First, there is $1 million in inventory to deal with, and Rob Bleeker said a “Thank You, Ottawa” sale will be held. The store will close when the inventory is gone.
Mr. Bleeker will still be busy as the full-time property manager of the mall and will soon advertise the space up for lease.
“Hopefully it goes quick," he said. "It’s a great corner. It worked for us for 45 years.”
Mr. Bleeker said it “should be no problem” finding new jobs for the store’s 15 employees through other contacts they have in the industry.
“Everyone will pretty much land on their feet,” he said.
Mr. Bleeker said he hopes the store left people with good thoughts and memories, adding the most important thing is to go out honourably.
“All the suppliers and everybody is paid up and nobody gets stung at the end,” he said. “That’s the way I’d like to see things finish.”