This Friday, November 16, Northway Dry Cleaners and the Party Store will officially close its doors for good.
The landmark building is familiar to anyone travelling Algonquin Avenue in North Bay.
Business owner Kaneez Merali says it was a combination of things which lead to the decision to close up shop, but the final nail was having a competing big box store go up across the street.
“In April I was employing 4.5 staff with a student. I went down to 3.5, then down to three, and then we had to close. It was everything. It was the minimum wage going up at the beginning of the year, so that was a hit that made me contract my dry cleaning work out because I figured that would be easier. In essence, I became a depot. And then the store across the street was a big hit. We had a drastic drop in our business, as much as 80 percent,” said Merali.
The original plan after having sold the dry cleaning equipment was to expand the party store into that empty space and keep the employees.
“But unbeknownst to me, across the street, there was a similar store moving in. I was going to continue with my plans, until customers started coming in, telling me about it. I inquired but didn’t get any answers, so I put my plans on hold waiting until I knew for sure. And then we saw the sign go up,” said an emotional Merali.
“I had to come to terms with it, and I had a talk with my staff, and explained the situation. They kind of figured it out. They knew when they were working Saturdays. So we tried to cut down hours, but we’re a business, we have to be open so many hours in order to accommodate all our customers. I gave them enough notice and I’ve looked for anything else for them. They’ve actually been so supportive,” said Merali.
“I started to really feel it a few days ago when we stopped taking dry cleaning. It has been hard. We’ve been here since 2001,” she said through tears.
Merali held a good-bye party at the store to bid farewell and say thank you to her loyal staff and customers.
Pat Andryechen worked at the store as a part-time employee for nine years, retiring a year and a half ago. She stopped by to reminisce with her former employer and co-workers.
“I’m still part of the family. I come back and visit, and as you see today I’m here to say goodbye. I don’t like to, but it is part of life. I still have tears in my eyes. It’s not going to be the same,” said Andryechen.
“I’ve got good memories from working here. She’s an awesome boss, one of the best bosses I’ve ever had. I worked for a large corporation for many, many years and never got treated the way I got treated here. It is a mom and pop store. Not many left in North Bay. It is too bad. This building has been here forever. Somebody said 80 years. I remember 60 years ago it was here because I was going to school then, and this building was here as a dry cleaners. Everyone is going to miss the place. Best balloons in town. I hate to see it go.”
Merali’s next venture is in real estate.
“I got my real estate licence because my store was running well with my employees, and real estate was something I always wanted to do. So my kids are older, I didn’t want to do it when they were young because it is odd hours,” said Merali.
“This whole business here came about because of them. When they were doing birthday parties, there really wasn’t anything in town that you could get. And that was the whole premise of opening up this business. I enjoyed it. I’ve actually been doing real estate since April, and I’m going to pursue that more now.”
And when she turns the lights off and locks the door for the last time, she will think of her customers and the time spent growing her businesses.
“I enjoyed my 17 years. I can honestly say it has given me so much experience, and I’ve grown so much.”