By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
That sign that has said Clarke Sommerville Ltd. at 84 King St. W. in Cobourg for so many decades will soon be changed, as Sommerville’s son Dave retires and the business welcomes a new owner.
“Everything runs its course and comes to an end,” Dave said in an interview Friday.
“I guess it’s the end of an era, but it’s also going to continue under new ownership and a new name – and I think she will keep most things the same.”
It seemed the appropriate time for a little nostalgia, and Dave shared the story of how his dad began the business in 1952.
“He was actually playing semi-pro hockey in the US,” he said, describing Clarke Sommerville as “a pretty good athlete in his day.”
“He wanted to get married, but Mom wouldn’t marry him as long as he was in the US playing hockey. So he bought the existing business, gave up his hockey career and started this.”
The store was at 96 King St. W. at the time. The couple married and settled into an apartment above the store. With Clarke Sommerville’s sports background – and the astute business advice of Dave’s grandfather – the enterprise flourished,
Dave was roped into the business young, his first task (at age seven) being to trundle wagon loads of merchandise from 96 King St. W. to the present location. He recalled taking a wagon of goods, bringing it back empty, and finding his mother with a second wagon all loaded up for the trip down King Street.
“You probably couldn’t do that today,” he said.
Sommerville’s was the only sporting goods store in the downtown, except for those years when Don Ball’s sporting goods store operated on Division Street.
And in due course, Dave assumed more of the responsibility of the family business.
“It has been fun,” he said.
“Every day you learn something. I remember as a kid, when I was 12 or 13 years old working here. Guys like Dick Turpin and Bobby Lake, Dennis Smith and Mike Kelly – they would all gather here every day after school because we sold pop and chips. They would have pop and chips and talk about all the things that were going on in the sports world in Cobourg, so it was fun.”
Time moves on, he admitted. The store eventually dropped the pop and chips, but expanded into a much wider variety of sporting goods than he could have imagined at the time.
“When we were growing up, you played ball in the summertime and you played hockey in the winter. Those were the two things you did.
“I think we counted a few years ago – there are 15 or 20 different activities kids in Cobourg can take part in in the summertime.”
He listed kayaking, canoeing, sailing and lawn bowling for starters, things that were just not available 30 or 40 years ago.
“There’s a lot of choices for people to make.”
With the closing of Hall’s Jewellers a few years back, Dave believes Sommerville’s is now the oldest continuous business in downtown Cobourg.
“I owe the community everything – the support they have given us over the years. We have been fortunate to do what we like – run a business downtown and be supported by the community making a living. It’s hard to put into words.”
Decades ago – before Play It Again Sports, before YMCA’s Strong Kids campaign and Canadian Tire’s Jump Start program – it could be hard for a family with limited means but several kids who wanted to play hockey. Clarke Sommerville would not see them miss out.
“My dad’s belief was, you can’t just take. If you are going to make your living in the community, you have to be part of the community. You have to give back. Whether it’s sponsoring teams or coaching or whatever, you have to give back, because it’s not fair if it’s a one-way street,” Dave recalled.
“Dad always had a soft spot for kids. He was a firm believer that no child, no matter their gender or their financial status – they should all be able to participate, so there were times when Dad would help out families who couldn’t afford to put their kids on the ice or the ballfield. But there’s lots of other people in Cobourg who did the same thing – quietly too. Ken Petrie is one who comes to mind. He always gave back and helped people who needed some support.”
In fact, he continued, look at the part of any poster or program in the community that thanks its sponsors, and you’ll see quite a lot of generous supporters.
“They always step up to the plate and always help out. Kudos to those businesses, because it’s part of being in the community.”
And philanthropy is not limited to the small businesses, he added. Tim Hortons and McDonalds sponsor a lot of things, from getting kids to camp to running Ronald McDonald House for families of children in the Hospital for Sick Children.
Interviewed as she prepared to take the reins, new owner Trudy Stacey said it felt surreal.
“I always told Dave for years, ‘One day when you retire, I would love to run this business and be here.’
“Sommerville’s has been a huge part of my life since I was young. My family all came here, we bought here – it’s family oriented.
“Dave is a very modest man, but he has provided a lot for this community. I am honoured.”
Stacey loved the atmosphere of the place, a downtown store where everyone also loved to gather – notable among them, Cobourg Daily Star sports reporter Layton Dodge. She likes to imagine that atmosphere continuing, with Dave becoming the new Layton Dodge of Cobourg.
“He’s a fun guy, and he can talk to anyone for however long he wants.”
Stacey brings a background in finance and municipal government, as well as a lifetime of being involved with the local sports community, and she’s a strong believe in giving back – “providing the opportunity for all ages and age groups a quality product that works for all levels.”
And while so much will remain the same, Stacey will be giving the store a new name.
“We hope the new brand will still honour the legacy and the atmosphere of Sommerville’s,” she said.
“I’ll be around – I’m going to help Trudy in a lot of ways,” Dave said.
“I’m going to be available to help her with team and league and corporate stuff, or anything else.
“I’m not just going to walk. I want her to be successful. I want her to enjoy this. I want this to carry on,” he insisted.
“She’s going to rebrand it under her own name, and so it should be. But I want her to be able to carry on and be successful, so I’ll help as much as I can.”
Looking back on the decision to retire, Dave said it was a no-brainer.
“It’s time,” he said.
“I am 68 years old. Physically and mentally it’s time. I’ve worked a lot of years, a lot of six-day weeks over the time. Now there’s time to spend with my wife and my daughter Jamie and my granddaughter.
“I’m getting older, my wife’ getting older. It’s time for us to go on a trip, it’s time for us just to hang around and do stuff together, so I’m really looking forward to that.”
Every business runs its course, and Dave feels lucky to have been at the helm during some wonderful years – before a business owner had to know the appropriate technology, and could focus on the customers as well as the inventory.
And as long as he’s listing the people behind the business, he made a point of adding his amazing staff. He was blessed with a low rate of turnover. He loved to think of Sommerville’s as being a comfort zone, and he strove to make sure that included his staff as well as his customers.
“When you walk in the store, whether you love us or hate us, whether you think we are good or we are not great, there’s a level of expectation I have tried to maintain and I think, all in all, we have done a pretty good job of that,” he said.
‘People don’t react well with surprises, and I like to think that we were pretty consistent – and I think if you are consistent you can have some longevity.”
Now that it’s time to move on, Dave declared, “I am totally at peace with this whole thing.”
He actually made up his mind to retire about six years ago, but held off while his wife went through some health issues.
“Mary’s doing fine, which I am thankful for. But three years ago, it was time,” he said.
The process included selling the second store Sommerville’s opened some years ago to sell sports clothing. Then he sold the property at 84 King St. W.
“And the last piece of the puzzle was to sell the business,” Dave said.
“Trudy stepped up and said she was interested, so we sat and talked and put something together. I’m totally at peace with it.”
And Dave said he is thrilled that a local person wanted to buy it.
“I’ve known Trudy since she was a baby. I’ve known her family. I am thrilled a local person wanted to buy it, because a local person maybe would understand better how this business operated – as opposed to somebody from out of town that didn’t know anything about our business,” he explained.
“I am thrilled the business is going to carry on, and I wish all the best for Trudy and I hope she is successful.”
Asked if he had any last words to share, he had three.
“Thank you, everybody,” he said.