It’s a bittersweet moment for the Johnson family as they get set to say goodbye to a variety store they have been running for decades.
“You get a sad feeling that finally, it’s over,” says Sherril Johnson, who co-owns the store with her husband Fitzroy.
“But I’m also excited,” she adds. “I know it’s a lot of work, time-consuming. So I am looking forward to this time where we can take things a little bit easier.”
The shelves are now empty in the store nestled in Pickering’s Fairport Beach area. The couple opened the Marksbury Variety store in 1987, when there wasn’t much around in the neighbourhood. Now, 33 years later, they are packing it in and being recognized for their contribution to the community.
“I think the Johnsons are the epitome of what the neighbourhood stands for,” says Paul White, president of the Fairport Beach Neighbourhood Association.
The neighbourhood group presented a plaque to the family at a small ceremony this week, along with a cheque for $200.00.
“They’ve done a service for our community,” White says. “Where are these businesses, tucked in behind the community now?”
The venture didn’t come without its hardships, though. One year after opening, Fitzroy Johnson says he was hit by a robbery, stabbed twice and nearly died.
“I was stabbed twice, here and here,” he said, pointing to his side. “One week I was in intensive care and one week in regular ward.”
But much to the surprise of the community, his wife and daughter opened the store while Fitzroy Johnson was recuperating. It was a milestone moment for the Johnsons, who left Guyana for a new life in Canada.
“I couldn’t have left my country, left my family, to quit then,” he said. “Nothing is going to stop me here.”
The near-death experience still stands out to his children Nkenna and Coujoe Johnson.
“I still remember when I went to see him, and my mom telling me to be strong, and we just kept going.,” says daughter Nkenna. “You know you are here despite what other people think you should or shouldn’t be doing.”
Nkenna Johnson and her brother both worked in the store. Coujoe Johnson worked in the store since he was 10 years old and says the experience taught them perseverance and responsibility.
“I feel my dad instilled in us discipline, a hard work ethic. We know that nothing in life comes easy,” says Coujoe. “I’ve always had a job since then, and that was one of the foundations, seeing what makes a business flourish.”
That business expanded to the family building a small plaza, accommodating five other tenants as well, including a laundry service and a dental office. The Johnsons were seen as a staple to the community.
“Obviously it’s very sad,” says longtime customer Mary Craigen. “This has been my go-to store, all this time.
“Very dedicated couple, wonderful people.”
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The family says COVID-19 wasn’t the deciding factor, but that it was time for them to close up.
“It was an opportune time to go,” says Sherril Johnson. Her husband added, “It was a good excuse.”
Despite the business closing, the Johnsons, who will continue to run the property, say it’s their hope the space remains as a variety store for the neighbourhood.
If it were up to Fitzroy Johnson, he says he would have worked a few more years if he could but he was out-voted.
“My veto was overridden by my wife and my children, and I accept that.”
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