Martin Markus always had a flair for business. As a 14-year-old in pre-war Transylvania, he began an apprenticeship with a clothing retailer who saw potential.
“Make sure he enjoys what he is doing,” Mr. Markus recalls the shop man telling his mother. “Otherwise, there is no point.”
He kept with it. Nearly 80 years later, Mr. Markus is closing down N. Markus Fashions, the business he would run with his wife – and, later, their two children – for 55 years. They are hosting a final customer appreciation event through Sunday of this weekend to say their final goodbyes. The event will be a bittersweet one for the family, who have seen the business through a period of great change.
N. Markus Fashions resides across from Honest Ed’s on the north side of Bloor Street West and is, like its famous neighbour, one of the last lingering remnants of the neighbourhood’s European immigrant past in what is now Koreatown. After the Markuses lock up for the last time at the end of the month, only the just-west Gus the Other Barber, just-east Wiener’s Home Hardware, and just-across-the-street Honest Ed’s will remain of what the Markus family calls “the old neighbourhood.”
The old neighbourhood is palpable in the Markus family store. A manual credit-card processing machine still sits beside the cash register, nestled among a jar of hard candies and other odds and ends. Dresses, skirts and jackets hang from chrome clothing racks, packed end-to-end; there’s no fussy presentation and no brand flashing. To step into the store is to step into a different time.
Mr. Markus immigrated to Canada in 1948. After landing in Halifax, he was meant to continue to Montreal, but wound up boarding a train to Toronto because he liked the city’s name. He married his wife, Judith, a fellow immigrant from Transylvania whom he met in Toronto, two years later. Together, they launched the business in 1957 and fostered a loyal clientele.
“We had the merchandise that they couldn’t find anywhere,” says Mr. Markus from inside the store, sitting with his back against a rack of jackets.
“Good prices, good selection and good fashion,” Ms. Markus adds from her seat beside him.
From the nearby cash register, son Norm pipes up: “And good service!”
Good service, the family says, was what kept them afloat after the market’s preferences moved from small family clothing stores to shopping centres and, more recently, online retailers. They even turned down an offer for a spot in Yorkdale Mall when the centre opened in 1964.
“We didn’t want another partner,” says Ms. Markus.
An independent storefront allowed the Markuses a unique, almost family-like relationship with customers. Daughter Linda Friedman remembers driving one customer home after numerous shopping occasions, as she also lived in the same North York area. Later, when Linda needed a ride, that customer returned the favour.
“We had some customers who I would even call if they had a procedure done, to see how they were,” says Ms. Friedman. “It’ll be sad to say goodbye.”
The reasons for the close are simple: business has slowed and its owners are ready for a break. Ms. Markus is now 83 and mostly retired; Norm and Linda are both in their sixties and looking forward to not working weekends. The only member of the Markus family not yearning for downtime is Mr. Markus, who at 93 admits: “I’m closing because [my family] tells me to close.”
“This is his baby, and I don’t think that he ever thought that in his lifetime he would ever see the store close,” Norm explained on an earlier occasion, while tending the store with his wife, Esther. “As far as he’s concerned, we should be going on a shopping trip tomorrow and load the store up again.”
Special to The Globe and Mail