After 64 years, a Powell River institution will be closing its doors later this month. Anderson’s Men’s Wear has dressed generations of Powell Riverites and played a part in a thousand rites of passage along the way. From getting fitted for a first suit to tuxedos for graduations and weddings, the business has shared milestones with its clientele over the decades.
“It’s probably four to five generations we’ve served,” said owner Keith Anderson.
The store was founded by Keith’s father, Jim.
“Dad came to Powell River in 1925 to play soccer and was offered a job in the mill,” said Keith. “He slowly worked his way into Powell Stores.”
Powell River Company stores were located in the recently reopened Townsite Market site at the time.
“They had a menswear department, so he worked in there and finally was the boss,” added Keith.
Eventually Hudson’s Bay Company bought out the business, but the iconic department store was out of touch with the buying habits and climate of the Upper Sunshine Coast, said Keith, recalling a story his father told him.
“One day this truck pulls up and it’s got these cartons and cartons of jackets all the way from Winnipeg,” said Keith. “And they’re fur-lined parkas.”
Given the rarity of snow in the region, not a single parka sold.
“That was sort of the beginning of the end for him,” said Keith. Soon after, Jim had his store built at 6418 Alberni Street, opening November 1954. Keith and his sister grew up in the store and it has served as something of a second home for his own children and grandchildren.
“I grew up with my grandpa being here and even when my dad took over, my grandpa would still come in a lot,” said Keith’s daughter Paige Anderson. “We used to hide in the racks when we were little.”
The family atmosphere extended to customers.
“You couldn’t sell this business because he knows everybody and their measurements without measuring them,” said Paige.
“I may not remember your name, but I’ll remember your size.”
Customer service always went above and beyond, added Paige, from rushing through wedding suits in an hour to hand-delivering parcels all over town.
One memory that stands out, said Keith, was an out-of-town customer who had ordered two made-to-measure suits.
“In those days [the deliveries] used to come up by bus, and this guy was leaving town,” he said. “My dad was here and I remember he’d just bought a new Audi, so I said ‘let me take your car.’ I went up to the bus depot, grabbed the suits and took off through Paradise Valley to Saltery Bay.”
The ferry was already departing when he arrived.
“I stopped at the gate and said ‘I have to get this parcel on the boat,’ said Keith. “A [deckhand] was standing at the end of the boat, it was already out of the dock, and I threw him the box. There were two made-to-measure suits in there and the [customer] was on the ferry. That was the closest call I ever had.”
Fashions have inevitably changed and come back around again over the years, however, some styles have been more welcome than others, said Keith.
“From leisure suits to acid-washed jeans; madras to the big disco stuff and the checkered suits, it’s been non-stop,” he added. “Now it’s slim fit stuff. Every four or five years something new is coming down the pipe.”
The store will have its doors open this weekend and possibly next, however, Keith said he is very much looking forward to not working on Christmas Eve for the first time in his memory. Retirement plans include simply spending more time with loved ones.
“I’ve got five grandchildren here and I enjoy them now, so I’ll keep attending all their functions and driving them places,” he added.
Running a small, independent business has never been easy, said Keith. Contending with changing consumer habits and online shopping have added to the challenge, however, he reflects back on the personal connections he’s made and the role the store has played in the life of the community.
“It wasn’t really about the business, it was about the people,” he said. “I’ve loved every minute of it.”