Ontario couple close longtime watch store to take time for themselves
The owners of a longtime watch store in Eastern Ontario are shutting down business this weekend.
The Fortier family behind Heritage Clock Shop in downtown Brockville, Ontario has been selling and repairing watches for nearly a century.
Barbara and Gaétan Fortier have run the business six days a week, and sometimes seven days, in the same place for almost 30 years, but now say they will take time for themselves.
“Our adventure has been great, very rewarding, even though it took many hours to complete,” Barbara said, as customers passed by with last-minute watch battery requests and congratulatory notes for the couple’s retirement.
Barbara’s father, Robert Baier, learned watchmaking from his own father in Germany before immigrating to Canada in the 1950s.
He in turn taught Barbara’s husband, Gaetan, who from an early age was fascinated by the complex mechanisms of mechanical watches.
“I remember when I started out, I made myself a little bench in the bedroom just to take them apart and put them back together just to learn,” he said.
The Fortiers did not retire for lack of business. They said, instead, that smartphones, Fitbits, and watches that can handle your love life have only sparked renewed interest in well-made mechanical watches.
The house asks for grandfather clocks
Several Sundays a month, the Fortiers traveled the Highway 401 corridor in eastern Ontario for home visits to clients whose grandfather clocks—too big and tricky to move—were no longer on time. .
Gaëtan brings the movements back to the workshop, makes adjustments, then keeps them in “observation” for a few weeks to check their accuracy.
It was a process that took time.
“For a while we were six, seven, eight months behind on my repairs,” Gaetan noted.
Repairs to delicate antique mantel clocks and the like required his full attention. This meant carrying out cleanings, overhauls and restorations in the quiet of evenings after the shop closed.
It’s fair to say that the Fortiers repair clocks 24 hours a day.
“You have to put in the time,” Barbara said.
2 holidays in 30 years
Gaetan has resisted the idea of taking on an apprentice, fearing that the demands of the training will eat away at his already limited time, but now he wishes he had found someone to pass on the specialist and endangered knowledge of how to repair and rebuild watches.
The couple said running a watch shop was an adventure, but with only two vacations in the past 30 years, they are ready to relax.
“It’s unfortunate because you can only get so many services at a place like Walmart,” said shopper Dan Mahon, who stopped to wish the couple luck.
WATCH | ‘It’s been bittersweet’: Brockville clock shop closes after 30 years
Last month the couple placed an advert in a British watchmaking newspaper listing the business opportunity in Brockville. There were no takers.
The same newspaper is currently listing an ad for a very similar family business of watches and clocks for sale in Orillia, where the owners are also retiring, so it may be bad timing.
The Fortiers, who have won local business awards for their service-oriented approach, operated under the slogan, “We always have time for you.
Today, after nearly 30 years of repairing and selling watches, they hope to take some for themselves.