Very quietly, the owner left the building…

One year ago the stores in Barrie’s downtown boasted three grandsons. Three men running three very different stores all started by their grandfathers scores of years ago.

Bob Stephenson, at Stephenson’s Jewellers, on Bayfield almost at the Five Points.
Robert Stephens, at Robert Stephens Store for Men, on Dunlop W near Mulcaster.
And John Garner, Garner’s Sports, on 56 Dunlop E, across from the Imperial Theatres.

Ours is not the downtown it used to be and the Big Box stores in the north and south ends lure the lion’s share of shoppers, but Barrie’s downtown streets offer that consistency that comes with stability.

But this isn’t a story about tradition. It’s about John Garner who for 27 years has been the anchor for sports equipment at 56 and 58 Dunlop St W. When he completed business courses at Seneca College, John’s father, Jack, called him home to help out in the sports store started by Jack’s father, Bill Garner, in 1931. Imagine, starting a store for sports equipment during the Depression! And imagine running it right on through the Second World War. Bill Garner did just that, turniing the key over to son Jack somewhere along the way.

It was 1980 when young John got the call and came home to run the family business. It’s been a great business; it’s supplied elite hockey players with top flight equipment for 76 years. Garner’s Sports is still there to do that. But, there’s no Garner running it anymore.

John reached the end of his energy last winter, in the middle of hockey season. The six or seven day weeks, going flat out 100% of the time, the fatigue that comes from keeping a lot of irons in the fire… well, John was just tired.

John says Garner’s has kept its toehold on the hockey business, especially the higher end elite equipment for serious players. And Barrie has a lot of serious hockey players. It was John’s expertise that players came to get for the past 27 years. After all, in hockey circles John’s participation on the Co-op Major Midgets Wrigley win feels like yesterday.

“By the late 80’s and early 90’s, Dad semi retired and we put a big push on hockey equipment. We did really well… it’s a combination of expertise and background. We carry the best equipment and we slid into that market and held it very well,” says John.

“When you’re trying to buy great equipment, you need good advice.”

The internet turned out to be an economic friend in the past two decades when the Canadian dollar was low. John says they’d send 20-25 shipments every single month of great hockey equipment to teams south of the border. “We did really well with that,” he muses.

And then one day, it was over. One day last winter. “I gave it my best 100% of the time. I wouldn’t leave til I felt comfortable leaving. I had a hard time leaving anything undone. I got to the point where I couldn’t do it all.”

It’s that simple.

John’s long time customer and friend, Paul Ryckman, expressed interest in a partnership. But John didn’t need a partner; he needed a change. So Paul slid comfortably into the Garner’s Sports net and took right over, ownership and all.

And so John, one of the famous 1976 Wrigley Major Midget winners (famous in Barrie, for sure) donned a new sweater with a new team and has a smile on his face. Being an employee is just great!

He’s working with Debbie and Craig Adams of Sportsline, selling custom uniforms for baseball, hockey, school spirit wear. John’s putting in a good honest day… Monday to Friday. And on weekends he’s with his wife and kids.

“There so much more to life than money,” he says. “It’s about family, about kids.”

You’re right John. Thanks.