More than 50 years ago, Karl Melendy opened a small-appliance repair business in the basement of his home.
A few years later, he moved into retail, and in the half-century since, the business moved to Water Street, eventually settling into its current location at the corner of Water and Adelaide streets in downtown St. John’s. The store evolved into Melendy’s Kuffer Korner, catering to tourists.
Current manager Holly Dalton — one of Melendy’s three daughters, who all work in the store — said it was a family decision to close the store, and it was a tough one to make.
“It was a pretty emotional thing for us, because Dad started back in the late ’50s,” she said. “It’s been our life, all our lives, for the three sisters, anyhow. It’s all we’ve known, the family business,” she said. “I think we’ve come to realize over the past couple of years that it wasn’t going to last forever, so I guess it’s a little bit of relief that we’ve finally made the decision that this is the time.”
The family decided to shutter the operation for a combination of reasons, Dalton said. Rising rent, a lack of downtown parking and a softening seasonal business have all put the squeeze on.
“Everything’s gone up, and for a small business, and a seasonal business — really, four months of the year is when we do our business — it’s just too much. We can’t bear it any longer.”
While Melendy plans to enjoy his retirement — which started 16 years ago in theory, if not in practice — the sisters aren’t sure what they’re going to once the store is closed.
“Good question. I keep saying, ‘Who wants a 52-year-old woman that’s worked in her family’s business all her life?’ It’s all I know, really,” Dalton said.
Signs proclaiming the store’s imminent closure — Melendy’s plans to shut the doors when the last of its remaining inventory is sold off, likely before Christmas — cover the windows, and Dalton said that’s drawn in customers who have come to know the name during its 50 years.
“For the most part, most of the customers are visitors, so there’s no attachment for them,” she said. “But we had a lady who was in the very first morning we had our signs up. She said she was out for her morning walk ... and, ‘I had to come back,’ she said. ‘You’ve been here all my life,’ she said. ‘I’ve always known Melendy’s is on Water Street.’ So she just had to come back and buy something for a keepsake.”
“I think we’ve come to realize over the past couple of years that it wasn’t going to last forever, so I guess it’s a little bit of relief that we’ve finally made the decision that this is the time.” - Holly Dalton
Melendy’s is the second long-term downtown retail operation to announce its closure recently, after Auntie Crae’s. Sister Karen Vallis said the problems faced by Melendy’s are not unique. “There are a lot of issues with downtown,” she said.
The biggest problem over the years has been broken windows, Melendy said.
“Many, many times, you’d wake up, phone rings, three o’clock in the morning. ‘What?’ ‘Mr. Melendy? RNC. Your window is broken.’ ‘Not again,’ I say,” said Melendy, 81. Another time, a taxi hit the side of the building, sending the bumper through the wall and across the floor.
Since the store bears the family name, Dalton said there was never much consideration given to selling it instead of closing it.
“We’ve always been fair. We’ve always tried to be honest, and for that reason I think we’d rather just sell everything, close the business, and keep our name intact. Because if you sell out to somebody, you don’t know how they’re going to run the business,” she said.
Despite the problems, the Mel-endy family will take away fond memories once the shop door is locked for good, including the store’s annual Christmas window displays, often animated by Melendy himself with a windshield-washer motor on low voltage.
And loyal customers will always be remembered, including a young boy with empty pockets. Melendy once fixed the boy’s bike and later bought him some hockey equipment the boy’s family couldn’t afford.
Eventually the boy’s family mo-ved and the Melendy family lost track of him, until Melendy ran into him 25 years later at Canadian Tire. A man approached him and asked if he was Mr. Melendy, and told him that he was the boy he’d bought skates for.
“He turned out to be a real nice young man,” Melendy said.
Moments like that are why Melendy says he loved “every minute” of the store’s more than 50 years.
“I love working. I just love working,” he said.