If those walls could talk

Forteau’s oldest store has a vibrant history


Published on April 27, 2017

Tony Flynn does it all at the Lobel Management store in in Forteau, from cutting fabric and selling craft materials to cutting meat to serving customers.

BUILDING ON SUCCESS

When the whole economy of Forteau, Labrador centred on the fishery, Harbour Drive was the heart of the community. Everything was located here, including the community wharf, the fish plant, the hospital, the welfare office and, right in the centre of it all, Mick Organ’s store.

Tony Flynn

Lobel Management, which opened in the 1950s, was the place everyone went to get just about whatever they needed. When you walked through the doors, you saw shelves stocked with fishing supplies, hardware, clothes, groceries and more.
The management even engaged directly with fishing operations in the village. Organ, a merchant who owned the store and other businesses in the Labrador Straits, would buy fish from local harvesters throughout the coast to ship to markets in Nova Scotia.
The central role the store played in the local economy was unquestionable. And, over the years, it also became a place to gather socially.
When the fish plant was still open and employing 60 to 70 people, it could get more than a bit crowded when noon rolled around and everyone rushed to Lobel to pick up chips, bars, pop and sandwiches for their lunch.
Even until fairly recently, whenever you entered the store, you were sure to be greeted by two or more local fishermen, engaged in lively conversation — spinning yarns, as they say.
There would always be someone seated by the window, which provides a sort of bird’s eye view of the wharf and the harbour. With a watchful eye over their domain, they’d talk of the weather, of the state of the fishery, what so-and-so was doing and, in later years, reminisce about the old days.

The central role the store played in the local economy was unquestionable. And, over the years, it also became a place to gather socially.

The Flynn family has operated Lobel Management for three generations. It is the oldest business in Forteau.

Today, that part of town is much quieter. Forteau’s business hub is now located on Main Street, the old hospital is a bed and breakfast, there’s no welfare office and the fish plant isn’t operating. The wharf is still there but doesn’t see as much activity as it once did, especially since the cod moratorium. Harbour Drive is predominantly residential, but one business remains.
Overlooking the harbour, Lobel, which moved to its present location in 1968, still stands tall. It is the oldest business in Forteau and a remnant of the past.
When you enter now you won’t be greeted by the sounds of lively conversation from two old fishermen. The chairs they sat in are still there but are often empty. The crowd of fish plant workers isn’t there anymore to pick up their lunches. And the shelves are no longer stocked with the variety of supplies it once had.
With the changing of the times, the store has had to adapt and change as well. It now primarily sells groceries and also has a variety of fabrics and craft supplies.
However, perhaps most notably, it is the only place in Forteau that cuts its own meat — something it didn’t do when it first opened.

Nowadays, in fact, when you enter, you can often hear the meat grinder out back.
In an era when so much is processed in unknown factories and shipped from away, it can be a kind of solace to hear the meat being ground, knowing where your food is prepared and who is preparing it.
Clarus Flynn, who bought the store from Organ in 1981, still owns it today. Management at the store has now, in fact, spanned three generations of the Flynn family. Clarus’ father, Wilfred Flynn, was there before him, working with Organ. In fact, back then it was always known colloquially as “Wiff Flynn’s store.”
Now, at “Clarus’ store,” his own son, Tony Flynn, has been helping with the day-to-day operations for many years as well. Clarus, himself, is often still behind the counter.
But out front, Mick Organ’s name remains on the store logo, a reminder of its origins, even though it’s been a Flynn family operation for years.
It’s a throwback to the past and a reminder that not everything changes with time.