Retirement planned after more than half-a-century selling material

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McKay's Corners Surplus Centre will not pass on to the third generation of the Person family.

After 52 years of selling fabrics by the yard, the metre and the bolt, Dianne Person has decided the business, started by her father Richard (Dick) Person, will close, “sometime this year.”

“I will miss the people,” Person told The Chatham Daily News Sunday.

An upbeat Person, joked how the fabric store inventory exploded, “by a man not knowing how to say no to a deal.”

It was a travelling salesman who got her father hooked on the material business.

“My dad had built a building here to turn into apartments, when a guy came by with some bankrupt stock (of fabric),” said Person.

The goods changed hands at an agreeable price and Person said one week later her father had sold enough goods to cover his costs and make a profit.

After that day, material started coming by the truckload.

Person said materials came from manufacturing companies in Paris, Ontario and Toronto.

Her family marketed McKay's Corners as being just off the “new” Highway 401 at the Kent Bridge interchange.

“I remember the mud when they were building that highway,” said Person.

Today, Person has no idea how many bolts are still left to sell.

“I'm not going to count them,” she said with a broad smile.

The fabric is marked down to sell at $10 by the bolt.

“If a bolt is small, I'll put two together,” said Person.

Some of the materials would have retailed originally for several hundred dollars, she said.

A family from Newbury shopping at the store on Saturday was shocked to learn the fabric centre's days are numbered.

Linda Stewart remembers being a child when her mother brought her into the store the first time to shop for material.

Stewart is now a grandmother herself who stills comes to McKay's Corners for its “fantastic supply” of fabrics.

“I bought material here for my daughter-in-law's first house five years ago,” said Stewart.

She had returned to the store with her daughter-in-law, Melissa and 16-month-old grandson Stetson to stock up for future projects including a new set of curtains.

Person said the family-run business was just that a business that provided the Person's enough money to raise six children and construct some buildings to put McKay's Corners on the map.

Person recounted untold numbers of children who would play behind the counter while their mothers shopped.

“It's a wonder none got hurt by a (heavy falling) bolt,” she said.

Not much has changed in the store over the years.

Person recalled only one time getting to re-organize the rows upon rows of materials.

The business still has its black rotary dial phone attached to the wall behind the counter.

A favourite memory Person shared of the good times was when a salesman brought $10,000 worth of material to the store and asked her father how he wanted to pay for the delivery.

“My dad started pealing $10,000 cash into the man's hands. He later told my dad he had to stop and call his boss to tell him what to do with the money,” said Person.

She said she finally convinced her dad to add a debit card machine when she had to start turning customers away who didn't have enough cash on hand to make a purchase.

At one time the business expanded by opening two other stores in London and Wallaceburg.

What once started in the early 60s by a man forced to move his family off an air force base in Jarvis, Ontario, grew into a fabric store dynasty known well by word-of-mouth advertising.

“People came from all over to shop here,” Person said.

Mary Seliga Lenover worked part time at the store for 28 years between school, teaching, and raising a family.

“Husbands would share jokes with Dick at the counter while the wives dug and sweated finding treasures,” said Lenover.

The store drew creative souls of seamstresses, upholsterers, students, dreamers and entrepreneurs to hunt through the countless yardage, she said.

Person said she preferred to let customers take their time looking at the materials on their own.

“If someone asked me for help, then I would come out from around the counter,” she said.

“I lose my keys. I can't find my car in a parking lot, but I know what's where on the shelves,” she added.

Person said she tried to find a buyer for the business, but has only found people interested in buying the building.

“I'm going back to Jarvis (to retire),” said Person.





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