Nostalgia is the key to success
Oxford’s GJDE Enterprises maintains the retro feel of many generations
Walking into an Oxford variety store is like taking a trip back in time to when Stedman’s, Woolworth’s, Woolco and the Metropolitan stores were common names.
It hasn’t been easy, but Eric Mosher has carved his niche with GJDE Enterprises – allowing him to compete with the big-box retailers as well as online outlets.
“There has been a lot of perseverance involved with this store,” Mosher said. “This is the 44th year of business and in that time there have been good times and bad times.”
After graduating from Mount Allison University and then going to school in Rochester, N. Y., Mosher returned to Oxford. The family was only using about half the floor space he’s using today.
“It has been a slow, steady period of growth to the point I have the largest inventory I’ve ever had and it has also been the most successful year I’ve ever had,” Mosher said.
While many small stores are disappearing for a variety of reasons, Mosher has “persevered” with clientele from Oxford, Cumberland County, across the province and the other Maritime provinces.
“There’s something special about this place that keeps bringing people back,” Mosher said. “I think it has a lot to do with the atmosphere. It has a very retro feel, a feel-good store. It’s nostalgic and a trip down memory lane. I carry a lot of things that people remember from when they were young.”
While he carries many traditional items – such as windup and mechanical toys, candy and music boxes as well as the Drinking Bird that was a fad in the 1970s – he uses modern technology to help him advertise. His Facebook page receives views from around the world and – while most of his orders come from close to home – he has shipped items outside Canada.
He also offers retro appliances that take people back to the 1950s and earlier.
Mosher said he carefully selects items shoppers and visitors won’t see at other stores, along with things he remembers from his childhood and those unique items that rekindle memories of a bygone era.
“I had a visitor from California this summer who asked me how many suppliers I had and I thought about it for a few minutes and told him about 100. He was amazed. He said it’s a place every visitor to Nova Scotia needs to visit.”
There are challenges, though; he doesn’t have a computer and frowns upon smartphones. Also, during the golden era of several decades ago there were other stores and service stations on Water Street, many of which have left.
He keeps relevant by dealing personally with sales representatives.
“That’s someone’s job and the more you buy online or in the virtual world, the less jobs there are,” he said.
He’s always looking for new products, but maintains he’s focused on products that have a local feel, including blueberry and maple items. He’s also toying with the idea of turning the building next door into a bistro of some sort.
The building dates back to the 1850s. In 1897, A. E. Smith of Economy purchased the J. H. Reid property on Water Street and opened what would become one of Oxford’s leading grocers.
What started as a grocer and restaurant saw a movie theatre – the Fairyland – opened on the building’s third floor and the entire enterprise was called a “grand emporium” by the former Oxford Journal in 1908.
It was in the early 1920s when Smith built what is the presentday Capitol Theatre on Main Street.
The store was taken over by Bertha and Leslie Asbell, Smith’s daughter and son-in-law, after he died in 1942. It was later taken over by Mosher’s parents, George and Joan, and then by Eric, who has put his own distinct touch on the building.
“Dad managed the store in the 1950s, I think it was 1957 to 59 or something like that. I was born in 1961 in Springhill and dad was with Stedman’s pretty much from then on,” Moshers said.
Mosher said his family lived on the second floor of the building and he now lives there.
The store became GJDE Enterprises in 1979 when the family left Stedman’s.
Eric Mosher displays ornaments available at GJDE Enterprises in Oxford.
Staff of A. E. Smith’s Store in Oxford in 1912.