May 20, 2015
Chronicle – Keith McAuliffe
West Island landmark used to sell petrol and produce
From fresh produce to kitchenware, Ste. Anne de Bellevue’s G. D’Aoust and Cie has sold it all in its 115 years of existence.
The commercial institution is celebrating the milestone on May 23, inviting customers that made G. D’Aoust and Cie a West Island success story to its Ste. Anne Street, two-storey store.
Among the day’s main draws is an exhibit into the evolution of store that was financed for only $800 in 1900.
Guisolphe D’Aoust, with the help of his wife Alphonsine Dandurand, took a leap a faith in opening the first one-stop department store, serving residents from Valleyfield to Lachine, with the help of 40 employees.
“Of course it was visionary at the time to build a store of that size with maybe a population of 400 or 500. People thought he was an eccentric man,” said the founder’s grandson and current store owner, Philippe D’Aoust.
At the turn of the 20th century, it was the only destination in the West Island to offer a variety of services and goods, including selling petrol, groceries, hardware, fabric, and more.
D’Aoust’s current management are constantly reminded of the good ol’ days, with the store still in possession of a Lamson cash-carrying system installed in 1924, and a brass cash register dating back to 1904.
“It was designed as a store for families,” said D’Aoust.
His father and uncle, Jean-Charles and Rene, took over the store in 1947 with the passing of Guisolphe.
By the time Philippe assumed control of the 20,000 square feet, family-owned business in 1992, chain stores and shopping malls were becoming prominent, forcing D’Aoust to revamp its identity. He decided to close the hardware department and focus on kitchenware, clothing, and furniture.
Today, 25 employees remain – among them is 97-year-old Marcelle, who has worked as a salesperson for 46 years.
“I’ve worked here all my life because it’s an amazing place to work,” she said.
Marcelle began working at D’Aoust when she was just 16 years of age in 1934. She stopped working when she got married at 25. She would later return to work on a temporary basis to replace vacationing employees before she stayed on permanently.
Marcelle, and others like her, said D’Aoust, is the reason why G.D’Aoust and Cie has remained relevant for so long in an ever-changing retail environment.
G.D’Aoust and Cie will celebrate the 115-year milestone on May 23 with an exhibit, prizes, a fashion show, and more.
Photo caption: Current G.D’Aoust and Cie owner Philippe D’Aoust in front of the family-owned shop that his grandfather Guisolphe opened in 1900.