In the 30 years since incorporation, Langford has seen a veritable stampede of stores and businesses make their way westwards.
But some businesses have been here since the beginning, or even well before that. Some have closed down throughout the years: Ma Miller’s Pub is older than Canada itself, opening in 1864 and serving its last pint back in January 2021. More recently, the Western Speedway waved the checkered flag on nearly 70 years of racing when it closed earlier this year.
The Goldstream Gazette spoke with the owners of three of Langford’s oldest still-open businesses to ask them about how they did it, what’s changed in Langford, and what’s in the future.
Sandy’s Auto Parts
Weyburn Auto Wrecking first opened in 1938 when Alexander (long for Sandy) Irwin opened the mechanic’s shop in Weyburn, Sask. The family spent a few years there until they moved westwards, setting up Sandy’s Auto Parts on View Street in downtown Victoria in 1945, continuing on in that location until they moved out to Langford in 1981.
“Our yard used to be filled with Camaros, Firebirds and Fairmonts and now it’s Priuses and vans,” said Wayne Irwin, grandson of Sandy Irwin and the current owner of the business.
A lot has changed in the business, said Irwin. Sandy’s used to let people into the yards to pick their own parts and used to keep inventory on cue cards, but now health and safety rules and computers have put a stop to that. Langford’s changed as well. Business has picked up as the city has grown, though the closure of the Western Speedway was a sad one for many people who come into the store.
Throughout that time, one thing has remained constant: Sandy’s has been a family business.
“My dad was the boss from eight to five and at five o’clock, he was my dad. I always respected that. He was the boss, right or wrong. He was right. I was wrong. And then at five o’clock, he was my dad.”
Irwin’s own son worked at the store from the age of 16 to 33 before opening his own business in Sooke. Mike Jones has worked at the store since 1981.
The company has six full-time employees and generations of satisfied customers.
“We’ve dealt with grandfathers, sons, grandsons, and their children. I used to be younger in the business and now I’ve got to be the old guy and I’m only just about 60.”
Irwin said Sandy’s will keep its doors open for many years to come
“The people of Langford are very loyal to us. We try to help them out, we don’t turn anyone away. We try to get them whatever parts we can. Langford always treats us well, we don’t have to worry about theft or anything over the fences, and they respect us. We’ve tried to show that back to them and give them good deals on all the parts.”
“If you go find a really old picture of Langford – it’ll be like, the train tracks and our building. It’s quite funny,” said Maria Ratcliffe, daughter of Cloth Castle owner Sylvia Ratcliffe.
Cloth Castle started from humble origins, as the Yarn Barn in 1969 when Sylvia’s mother Ethel decided she wanted to share her love of knitting with the community. A few years later Sylvia and her husband Joe took over and rebranded, expanding their offerings in the process.
“(Joe) kind of felt like he wanted it to be a place where people – the community – could come and make their clothes because it’s always expensive, buying good quality clothes. So that was the reason, they’ll need clothes as well as food and because clothes are a necessity.”
For many of the loyal customers who come in, the store has gone beyond a place to get their necessities.
“Our customers kind of become part of the family – share great things that are happening in their lives, if they need a shoulder to cry on or just a place to be because something is happening – we just want to be that place because I think we’re missing that in communities. We don’t have those places anymore, where people used to hang out and get to know each other. It’s all online. Not that online is bad, but we still need to communicate face-to-face.”
Maria said while things like sewing bees have come and gone as time has passed, the store has been able to provide that hub for people.
Like Sandy’s, Sylvia says she’s starting to see multiple generations of families come into the store interested in sewing. The store also hosts classes, many of them hosted by Bonnie Harper, Sylvia’s other daughter who herself went on to become a professional seamstress.
Sylvia said four kids who took classes at the Cloth Castle have gone on to sew professionally, while people who have been coming into the store for years are now bringing their children and their grandchildren in.
“I’m 76 and I’m still coming in, I love the store. I love the people. I still love to come in and serve people and just love to be here and talk to them and stuff like that. It’s better on my legs than sitting around all the time.”
With both Maria (and her husband Michael) and Bonnie loving working at the store, Cloth Castle is set to stay standing for years to come.
Rick Fisher has spent half a century coming into work in the same building.
Since he was 15, Fisher has been coming into the family business, Glenwood Meats. While there has been some change in that time – the name changed from Glenwood Farms and the abattoir is long gone – Fisher has been a constant feature, running the family business since 1981 when he took over from his father (the business first opened in 1950).
“Back then we were really in the bush. People didn’t have GPS or cellphones and they would get lost and they couldn’t find us because they thought, ‘There’s not going to be a meat market way back there in the woods.’ But Langford has grown up considerably since then.”
With more people have come more customers. The store has loyal shoppers – Glenwood is also seeing multi-generational family shoppers – but is also constantly seeing new faces coming in.
“When you’re in (Costco), and if you see someone who is a customer at Glenwood, and maybe they’ve picked something up at Costco, it’s actually surprising how they’ll see you and they’ll turn their buggy and go the other way because that they feel that they maybe cheated on you. That’s the loyalty that we have here.”
Competing with the big-box stores is a challenge, but Fisher said customer service and taking requests has helped give them an edge. Many of the staff members have been working for decades, Todd Kendall is still cutting meat 36 years after he first started working for Fisher.
“You’re a family-owned business and the struggles that you have. Then you hear of other small businesses shutting down. It bothers you to see that for sure.”
The days are long of Fisher and his wife Bal consistently working seven days a week from 5:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., even when the store isn’t open. But he has no plans to stop anytime soon.
“As long as you enjoy it, you keep doing it. When people say, ‘When are you going to retire?’ Maybe they’ll just pick me up off the floor – I’m enjoying what I’m doing. I have no intention of retiring.”