A Century of Style
The experience of shopping as a civilized pursuit is rare these days. Oh, plenty of the franchises and interchangeable shops that populate malls offer pleasant enough smiles to the customer. But how often is your name used in most stores you frequent? How much do staff actually know about their products, let alone your tastes and needs?
Men, at least, but also the women who shop for them, can receive what is accurately called "traditional" service at E.R. Fisher, a purveyor of fine men's clothes and accessories in Ottawa since 1905. It is one of the oldest businesses in the city still to be operated by the founding family.
It all began at the turn of the last century when Emerson Ralph Fisher worked in a ‘dry goods store' in St. Catharines, Ontario. He was recognized as an exceptional, innovative employee. When a major supplier recognized this, he was offered the opportunity to open his own store in Ottawa. The supplier backed this young entrepreneur to the tune of $50,000.00... a fortune in those days, and did so on the strength of a handshake. The loan was repaid within a few years according to grandson, Tony Fisher. He, along with his wife Susan and brother Peter presently are the third generation co-owners of the firm.
Mr. Fisher found retail space on Sparks Street, on the same block that the flagship store occupies today. From 1905 until 1918 the store operated at 134 Sparks Street, beside the former Citizen location then moved up the street across from their present store at 110 Sparks Street. Their current location at 113, was purchased and renovated in 1948. Over the decades, Fishers have had stores in various Shopping Centers. In May of 2001, they relocated their last Shopping Center store, which was in Bayshore, to the new trendy area of Westboro. Fishers had purchased a building in this neighborhood many years ago based upon the idea that Westboro was in for a renaissance, much the same way that Bank Street experienced in the Glebe. "For many years," says Mr. Fisher, "our business and Shopping Centers were on divergent courses. We were finding that our customers were growing tired of Shopping Centers. They have embraced our new west-end location at 199 Richmond Road with the convenient on site parking and the bright cheerful environment."
The first E.R. Fisher lived until 1938. His son, who bore the same name but was uniformly known as "Bud" was a recent Queen's Commerce graduate at that point and joined the business just before the outbreak of the Second World War, when he went to serve in the Navy. He was stationed in Halifax while long-time employees - a good core group of men who had been with the business for many years" according to Tony Fisher - managed the store. E.R. Fisher had always traded in good quality men's clothing, and as such, had built both a loyal clientele and a dedicated work force. The three generations of Fishers to run the business have all seen employees come and stay for their entire careers.
Bud Fisher began a scrapbook of the store in 1935, collecting its advertising and occasional articles about anyone who worked there. It is a record of the styles and issues of the decades it covers. A 1941 advertisement for "lustrous white shirts" claims boldly that they are "well worth $2.50" but the happy client could acquire them at E.R. Fisher for a mere $1.95. Ties of the same vintage - "all silk" - sold for $1.
Bud Fisher was, according to his son, a well-read man, interested in literature and history, and the wartime ads were peppered with quotations from Churchill or Kipling. The ads were very patriotic. The company was designated a "Tailor to His Majesty's Services." Tony Fisher says that "the ads were designed to stand behind the men." Clothing regulations imposed in wartime put an end to double-breasted men's suits, cuffed trousers and the second pair of trousers that usually went with a high-quality suit; the cuts would save more than one million yards of cloth, sufficient to make 435,000 uniforms. Even information like this was sensitive in wartime, and another Fisher ad said, "Keep it Under Your Stetson," with a cartoon of such an item of headgear. The ad continued, "Loose Talk Can Cost Lives."
Tony Fisher notes that the custom of selling a second pair of trousers to a suit is returning, and cuffs and double-breasted jackets have come and gone with fashion over the years. E.R. Fisher is not a shop specializing only in the trends du jour. They prefer to accommodate the personal preferences of the many customers who have come to them, man and boy, first with their own fathers, then with their sons and grandsons.
Bud Fisher, who died in 1984, was active in the community, including a term as president of the Board of Trade. He was a Rotarian, was involved in Scouts Canada and was a founder of the Sparks Street Mall. A man who felt people in business should be "like Caesar's wife–beyond reproach."
Tony Fisher's father was running the store when, in 1947, a staff training manual was produced. "Of course things change," says Mr Fisher, " today we liaise with customers all over the world, but that manual still holds true... nothing has changed in terms of taking care of customers."
(Our story, ’A Century of Style’ compiled from the Ottawa Citizen & Tony Fisher)