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The Gazette

By Susan Semenak

November 16 1985


Family business have soul.

Wander through an old family-run shop and feel the warmth and devotion that made it what it is. Most start out as wistful endeavors, nurtured over the years until they’re thriving reflections of the people and traditions that built them. Each generation of successors is groomed from childhood, with fervent hopes that the empire, however modest, won’t fade. “Our business has strengthened the family’s ties”, says Tony Fargnoli, whose grandfather opened the first Tony’s Shoe Store on Greene Ave. almost 50 years ago. At G.D’Aoust & Cie, in Ste.Anne de Bellevue, Guisolphe D’Aoust’s sons Jean-Charles, 79, and René, 77, carry on the business that their father started as a tiny trading post in 1900. Visit Stilwell’s Home Made Candy Shop in Verdun, where sweet treats once kept the Stilwell family fed and clothed during the Depression.  Meet bubbly Kay Stilwell Light – “Auntie Kay,” as she’s known to the four generations of customers enticed by her famous Humbugs.

Step back a century in the D’Aousts’ store

The customers rarely hitch their horses out front these days and the old gaslight lamp has long been replaced with electric neon, but at D’Aoust & Cie the past is alive and well. No computerized check-out counters here. Pay the bill at this 85-year-old Ste.Anne de Bellevue landmark department store and step back a century. Nobody has ever bothered to replace the 1923 Lamson cash-carrier system.

So with a squeak and a bang, the customer’s money is stuffed into a metal cylinder and whisked from the front counter to the accountant on the second floor by a system of vibrating wires along the ceiling.  Change is returned in similar fashion. The old contraption has been drawing busloads of curious customers for years, says owner René D’Aoust.

The D’Aoust family store at 73 St-Anne St. gives a whole new meaning to one-stop shopping.

Brothers Jean-Charles and René D’Aoust deal in everything from yard goods and ladies’ nighties to hardware, old records, bean pots and lace-up shoes, circa 1900. You name it, they’ve got it in their three-storey, red-brick store, which has majestic oak floors and staircases.

“They all go downtown, to Eaton and Simpson, but in the end they wind up out here,” says René.  Everybody finds what they need at D’Aoust.

“After 85 years, we know what people want.”

The business was started in 1900 by their father, the suave and sophisticated Guisolphe D’Aoust – turn-of-the-century mayor of Ste.Anne de Bellevue, world traveller, inveterate yachtsman. It took him a year and $800 to erect the building his sons have since expanded twice.  D’Aoust & Cie began as a one-storey general store with two little windows.

Now Jean-Charles, 79, is president, and his brother René, 77, is vice-president of the 300-square-foot store with three floors packed with merchandise. Both are frequently spotted sweeping floors and dusting shelves. René figures his three sons will take over the business when he finally gets around to retiring.  But so far, he hasn’t had the time. A graduate of the École des Beaux Arts, René is as accomplished landscape painter who’d like nothing more than to retreat to the country-side to paint and relax. “But the business always seems to take over everything else,” he said.

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