Western wear shop closes after 81 years

Tyler
Tyler Clarke
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A downtown Prince Albert fixture since 1933, Davidner’s Clothing and Western Wear is closing up shop on Wednesday.

 

It’s fitting to see the business close about one year after longtime owner Herschel Davidner’s death, Herschel’s daughter Leah Towill said on Monday.

“He was this store, which goes a long way to explaining why it is closing,” she explained.

Davidner died on April 10, 2013, at the age of 86, after about 67 years of running and expanding the business his father, Samuel, opened in 1933.

After a couple decades of looking after the business’s finances, Towill was chosen as Davidner’s successor a couple years prior to his death.

Key to the business’s success over the past 81 years has been customer service, Towill said, noting that her father was central in instilling service skills in the store’s employees.

"It's not a case of reluctantly providing service, but doing it with desire," Davidner told the Daily Herald a couple months prior to his passing.

"I would contribute the fact that we're still in business to the fact that we've done our best to deal with the public in as courteous and careful a manner as possible.”

Growing up at the store, Towill said that she and her siblings -- twin brother Les and younger brother Mark -- found plenty of ways to get into trouble at the store, and at one point almost burned it down.

An old electric fan that shot out sparks served the youth as a toy machine gun, Towill explained with a chuckle.

As it turned out, a stack of dry, old paper “isn’t a good thing to be shooting sparks at.”

Then, there was climbing on things in the store.

“Saddles -- there was just nothing better than not getting caught climbing on the saddles,” she said.

Closing the store her family has taken care of for 81 years has been difficult, Towill said, noting that as difficult as it’s been for her it was even more difficult for her father, who’d long mused about selling the business, but even at 86 years of age remained reluctant to follow through on.

“He listed the building in February, before he died, and exactly 24 hours later he panicked,” Towill said, noting that the listing was pulled the following day.

Stacked on top of the emotional difficulty of selling her family’s longtime business has been the sheer scope of dealing with everything Davidner stockpiled over the last several decades.

“There was a vast amount of cleanup to do,” Towill said. “To the ceiling -- boots; and aisles you couldn’t walk down because there was stuff piled up to the ceiling.”

A basement that runs through the length of the building was also stuffed to the ceiling with merchandise.

(Herschel Davidner) was this store, which goes a long way to explaining why it is closing Leah Towill

“I think he was very astute as to what is good value, and he valued Canadian-made manufacturers,” Towill explained.

At one point, Davidner purchased all of the hats Alberta-based company Smithbilt had left in its stock.

“Here we are 80 years later and -- granted, we’ve parted with a lot of things -- but there are a lot of things here that you would find in the ’30s,” Towill said.

“If you need a rubber overshoe with a buckle, we’ve got it!”

One cotton undergarment they had in the basement that dates back to the ’20s was recently given to a museum out east, she noted.

Although the business is closing on Wednesday, Towill notes that her work has only just begun.

After sharing a few drinks with the long-term staff of five people on Thursday, she still has about a year’s worth of financial work to do.

Reflecting on the months that have followed Davidner’s death, Towill said that things have been difficult but manageable thanks to a small staff of dedicated employees.

“Any success that I’ve enjoyed is because we have a ridiculously good staff,” she concluded.

Reflecting on the closure of one of the city’s longest-running businesses, Prince Albert Downtown Improvement District Association manager Bob Gill said that it would be greatly missed.

“They’ve been a dynasty, so it’s going to be a loss for us, for sure,” he said. “That’s one of the things downtown is known for -- the family-operated businesses.”

“They’ve always been the go-to place, whether it’s for Western wear or just clothing in general. I know that safety equipment – that was the go-to place for all of them.

“We certainly thank them for all their years of dedication and commitment for the business that they operated.”

Despite the business’s looming closure, Towill still holds out hope that it will continue to operate as a business, in some capacity.

“I really hope that in the 11th hour that somebody’s going to come through (and buy it),” she said.

As of Monday, Towill said that she doesn’t know what the future will hold for Davidner’s Clothing and Western Wear after they lock the doors for what might be the final time on Wednesday.

“It will work out the way it’s supposed to,” she said. “I have faith in that.” 

Organizations: Daily Herald, Prince Albert Downtown Improvement District Association

Geographic location: Western Wear

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  • Karen Switenky Nicolai
    April 29, 2014 - 13:28

    Leah, I remember playing with you as kids on sixth street east. Good luck to you. I will always remember your mom and dad at their store. Sad to see it gone but nothing is forever, is it ?