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Curious St. John’s shop hosted variety of businesses

A day in the life of the little shop on Freshwater Road in St. John’s, when it was the home of Nether World Collectibles. Nether World moved to 44 Crosbie Rd.
A day in the life of the little shop on Freshwater Road in St. John’s, when it was the home of Nether World Collectibles. Nether World moved to 44 Crosbie Rd.

There are big box stores and then, at the other end of the spectrum, there’s 198A Freshwater Rd. in St. John’s.

The space is empty, but has been home to many independent businesses in its time. It is now poised for demolition, set to become parking as part of a commercial redevelopment.

“I was there for around nine years,” barber Stan O’Brien said when asked about the tiny spot of less than 100 square metres, thinking back to about 40 years ago, when he was still in his early days in his chosen trade.

“It was fine. There were two of us there. It wasn’t as big as this,” he said, standing inside Stan’s Barber Shop on Mayor Avenue, a traditional one-chair corner set-up.

The Freshwater Road location had solid foot traffic, he said, and he enjoyed putting in time, “wonderful” time, beside co-worker Gus Galgay, after leaving a job on Water Street West.

Stan O’Brien operates the one-room Stan’s Barber Shop on Mayor Avenue, but can recall working in a smaller space, at 198A Freshwater Rd. That was about 40 years ago. O’Brien said he can’t recall the origins of the little building there.

O’Brien and Galgay learned what they needed, in terms of dollars and sense. They went on to start new businesses of their own and each became local legends. Galgay died in 2011.

Barbershop customers usually parked by the neighbouring, larger store on the corner of Freshwater Road and Empire Avenue. The larger building housed the independent Duff’s Grocery Store for a time, and now houses Shoppers Drug Mart. A pharmacy has been at the site since the 1970s, according to a Dillon Consulting report prepared for the coming redevelopment, with a medical clinic on the second floor.

But O’Brien couldn’t say when the little shop next door was first built.

Nether World owner Christopher Matchem knows about origin stories, but also wasn’t sure of the story behind the tiny space where his business first appeared, long after the barbershop had closed.

Nether World is now at 44 Crosbie Rd., with a little more breathing room, but spent about 12 years at 198A Freshwater Rd. The size of the place was actually a draw, he said, speaking with The Telegram Wednesday.

“It was basically the main reason why we started out there,” he said. “It was one of the more affordable places to start out a small business.”

Matchem had built a customer base in cards and collectibles through a regular flea market spot, at a market held inside the Avalon Mall. When he decided to establish a bricks and mortar business, the tiny shop was a good fit.

“I’d say for the initial six or seven years it more than fulfilled our needs,” he said.

The space also fostered The Bird House, a business for nature lovers supplying bird feed, bird houses and books on birding, among other things. The Bird House and binocular shop, now under new ownership, continues today at 124 Duckworth St.

In the recent past, the location on Freshwater Road was home to Modern Hair Design Studio, according to city records. Looking further back, there are memories of a handful of other start-ups, there and gone, as the years passed.

At the regular City of St. John’s council meeting on Tuesday, approval was granted for the zoning change for the proposed redevelopment, including the area of the tiny shop. What will come, according to available documents, is similar to the Shoppers Drug Mart and clinic space there now, but it will be a new building, with slightly more floor space. Arrangements are set for temporary pharmacy and clinic spaces during construction.

The city had long been responsible for a dead-end section of Liverpool Avenue that jutted into the area around the drug store and clinic building. That bit of public road will be sold and worked into the parking plan. An easement will allow a house at 196 Freshwater Rd. to continue to have access to its driveway.

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