Whether selling moccasins to international tourists or meeting the prime minister, the family that runs Irving Rivers has seen it all.
The store on the corner of ByWard Market Square and York Street – with its well-known slogan “We corner the market” – is named after its original owner Irving Rivers, who opened it to sell uniforms and clothing in 1950. He ran the store with the help of his family until he died in 1997 while on his way to work.
His death came as a shock to the family. His daughter Ellen Rivers immediately took over the business and, instead of going to university, her son Michael Osterer decided to take on a full-time position at the store.
Yves Tremblay and Sylvie Villeneuve have an extensive history of philanthropy and community involvement in Ottawa. It’s clear that being generous and making an impact have long been important to
“I felt comfortable doing it because it’s something that I knew,” Osterer recalls. “I was (also) never a huge fan of school. I just can’t sit still.”
Since age eight, Osterer had worked with his grandfather on weekends and holidays. He remembers Irving taking him out to lunch and treating him “like royalty” at the store. He’s been a full-time employee for 22 years and is now the store manager.
“All my life skills I’ve learned from working in the Market; how to interact with people, calm situations down and de-escalate,” he says.
His staff show a similar dedication to the job. Dan Ferran, who says he takes “care of all the problems” around the store, has worked there for more than 30 years.
Ferran says running the store is an adventure because staff never know which public figure might step through the door. Big names include Ghostbusters star Dan Aykroyd, ABC World News Tonight anchor Peter Jennings, and former Canadian prime minister Jean Chretien.
“The governors general used to come all the time because they had the pool. We used to sell flip flops and, for some reason, every governor general would tell the next one, ‘Go get your flip flops at Irving Rivers,’” Ferran says. “We would know when they changed over because all of a sudden the guys in black come in and go all over the store. The last one I remember was (Michaëlle) Jean.”
Osterer says he’s also come to know several of the unhoused people in the area through friendly conversations.
The store used to appeal mostly to Ottawa locals, but as the Byward Market grew as a tourist destination over the past two decades, the business has started catering more to international visitors. The most popular items now include moccasins, wool cabin socks, and novelty socks.
The variety of customers makes the job fun and interactive and helps him learn what products he should be stocking, Osterer says.
“The Market always brings tourists down, no matter what. It’s just a beautiful place to see and the Parliament Buildings are so close,” Osterer says. “If they’re down in the Market, might as well capture them.”
Osterer doesn’t know what the future holds. His children – ages seven, 10 and 11 – occasionally help him sweep the floors and price magnets, but he isn’t sure if they want to take over some day. Either way, Osterer knows he wants to run Irving Rivers for as long as he can.
“That’s my goal: to keep it going,” he says. “If my kids want to come work here some day, that’s up to them.”
This column is presented by Star Motors, Ottawa’s original Mercedes-Benz, Mercedes-AMG and Mercedes Van dealer. Since 1957, Star Motors has provided its customers with the Mercedes-Benz “The Best or Nothing” standard in vehicle selection, service, genuine parts and certified collision repair. For your convenience, you may shop, research, chat and compare vehicles online at starmotors.ca, visit the 400 West Hunt Club location or call (613) 737-7827 for the very best in personal service.