Proprietors aiming to close Robertson Trading Ltd. by May
Robertson Trading Ltd. doors will close for grocery the end of December 2023, and for other merchandise in the spring, proprietor Scott Robertson said in an interview with the Northern Advocate.
Robertson said it’s been a tough decision, although he has been considering closing the store for probably four or five years.
“I’m 66 in a few weeks and I’ve been doing this basically since I was nine-years-old, filling shelves,” Robertson said. “I just have a suspicion there’s more to life than this.”
Robertson began stocking shelves at nine; he has continually worked with it since leaving university in 1981 taking over management between six and eight years later.
Robertson stopped ordering for the grocery end of the business, he said, and hopes to be out of produce by the end of December.
“Then there will be a couple of us left in the store and we will work some kind of hours limping along January, February, March and April, hopefully to clear out all the footwear, all the dry goods, whatever’s left in the hardware,” he said. “Then, come May 1, I hope to lock the doors.”
While staffing is always challenging, some staff have been with Robertson’s for many years, decades, he said.
“Some almost 40 years,” he said.
“The whole town is going to miss our butcher. For sure the best butcher in northern Saskatchewan. The best sausages, best bacon, best, nicest ribeye steaks. Yes this town is going to lose a first-class butcher.”
The decision to close was not an easy one, Robertson said.
“My wife has been retired for 10 years. Where do you draw the it [line], 68, 70? I’ve still work more than 70 hours a week. I’ve been doing that since I left university.”
Robertson’s is a complex business ranging from fur, to groceries, footwear, dry goods, hardware.
“We expedite to the exploration camps. They have been a big part of our business over the years. It depends very much on the price of gold and the price of uranium and what’s hot commodity. It’s an unpredictable business, but all of these pieces somehow fit together and have made us profitable for half a century,” Robertson said.
The fur business “is always a tough business. I mean it’s a sliver of what it used to be. There is essentially no fur business left. Running a trading post, I mean find me another trading post that’s been alive for 56 years! … we’ve had busy years. We’ve had poor years.”
The COVID years, “were actually not tough years. Trudeau flooded this country with money. If you couldn’t make a go of it during the COVID years, you were a … poor businessman.”
Dealing with the collection of Indigenous artifacts, may be Robertson’s “retirement project,” he said.
He’s had some discussions with the Town to have them take it over, to keep it in the community, “but, to be honest, I’m not hopeful.”
He thinks he could start to sell the collection on the Internet.
“There are some very good pieces, some historic pieces. My heart says, they should be kept in the community on display for the community. But, I’m not sure others share my vision.”
The story of Robertson’s Trading Inc. goes back to 1967, when, Robertson’s father, Alex, moved to La Ronge after leaving the Hudson’s Bay Company and purchasing “a little shack of a store called, La Ronge Grocery … He knew the fur potential of northern Saskatchewan.”
Alex Robertson was one of the “last fur buyers that was actually trained in the Hudson’s Bay Company Fur Trading School in Montreal,” Scott explained. “He was sent out to apprentice in various posts right across Canada, from the Arctic as far as the West Coast. He developed a love for Aboriginal people and Aboriginal stuff, the beadwork, the artwork. Every single thing you see in our store is done by local Aboriginal people. They might be Dene, mostly Woodland Cree, but mostly from northern Saskatchewan.”
Robertson said, “my father travelled the north, lived all over.”
In his early years, Robertson said, the family lived in numerous communities in the Churchill River area before settling in La Ronge.
Robertson said, he plans to “just do some living,” once he turns the key in the door for the last time.