by Lorrie Loewen
On November 7, Elias and Jeannette Monsour locked the doors of their Glebe home and adjacent store, the Fifth Avenue Grocery on the corner of Fifth and Gordon, for the last time and turned over their keys to a new owner. Elias and Jeannette were a little sad but want everyone to know that this is a time of celebration for them.
Many small businesses have come and gone in the Glebe neighbourhood over the years. The Fifth Avenue Grocery, a small gem, has stood the test of time, becoming a beloved part of the Glebe community for 42 years thanks to the community building efforts and hard work of its owners.
Elias and Jeannette Monsour were a young married couple with two pre-school children when they first bought the Fifth Avenue Grocery in 1974. They had experience in the hospitality industry, a love for people and a dream. They envisioned more than just a place for penny candy and sundries after the bigger stores’ closing time. They set out to build a community hub where customers would gather and become friends.
Over the years they have watched two generations of their own family grow up along with many generations of customers and their children. They are proud parents and grandparents of five grown children and 12 grandchildren. “Our neighbours and customers are like a family to us,” says Jeannette.
“We worked very hard and we brought lots of combined experience from the hospitality industry, but our success was built on community support and the fact that we love meeting people,” adds Elias. “Our neighbourhood and our store meant community to us. When we opened, many of our customers were families with young children. There was a need to provide them with goods and services after the large supermarkets and shops closed. They became loyal customers when we gave them and their children a friendly environment where they could come out and meet with neighbours and friends; where the kids could hang out and play with our kids after school.”
“If the neighbourhood kids ever forgot their keys or got locked out after school, they had a safe place to wait until their parents picked them up,” adds Jeannette, smiling. “All of our children worked in the store as students. We also hired a student from the neighbourhood, Andy, who was a great employee. He has grown up and is on to his own career and family now.”
To celebrate, Jeannette hosted a festive gathering, a delicious gourmet Thanksgiving feast for 27 family members, friends and neighbours. She has a passion for cooking and both she and Elias are terrific cooks. Community members describe Elias and Jeannette as strong community supporters, family oriented, hard-working, neighbourly, caring and environmentally friendly. “I certainly appreciate seeing them in the store window and waving as I passed, or always having that ingredient I needed at the last minute after the stores were closed! They will be missed in our neighbourhood,” says an appreciative customer.
Jeannette has some advice for those dreaming of a small neighbourhood business. “Times were not always easy. We came to Fifth Avenue at a good time and are grateful we benefitted from closing time at the large stores and got to meet all our wonderful customers, become friends. The neighbourhood was filled with families with young children.”
“Then the neighbourhood kids grew up and changes in demographics impacted our business,” said Elias.
“Nowadays, with large grocers and drugstores being open extended hours and holidays, the store is quieter,” adds Jeannette. In recent years, a frightening robbery attempt occurred. “But we persevered, with the support of our community. It is still a good time for a small business like a convenience store,” says Jeannette. “Our neighbourhood is once again filled with families with young children. People do stop in on their way to Redblacks or 67s games.”
Elias, a big football fan who used to attend Ottawa Rough Riders games, smiles. “Yes, a convenience store could still be an important part of a community even though there are different challenges nowadays. I would advise that it would be very important to provide a unique service or product and a special experience and sense of community in order to rise above the challenges, to be able to attract customers and have a viable business.”
Both Elias and Jeannette feel that it would also be important to be active with local community groups and the municipal government.
Future plans for the property are unknown at press time. It will be important for the community to be engaged in discussions about the development plans. Many cities have realized the importance of corner stores after they have lost them and are in the process of revitalizing these integral parts of communities.
As for Elias and Jeannette, after 42 years they are looking forward to a very happy retirement. “We will miss everyone in this great community. This is a time in our lives to celebrate family. We will be busy with our family, our new home and the garden. We hope to take time to travel and enjoy my woodwork and metal work, play canasta and trump with friends, and to enjoy all the football and hockey,” smiles Elias. “We loved our years at Fifth Avenue Grocery. We worked very hard running a successful business in a vibrant community. It was very rewarding watching our community and our business grow together.”
Jeannette says they will definitely be back to the Glebe to visit friends. “We love the Great Glebe Garage Sale. We will still enjoy taking our grandchildren to skate on the Rideau Canal in winter and to Dow’s Lake for the Tulip Festival.”
“My snow blower is for sale now if you know anyone who needs one,” adds Elias with a wry smile.
Farewell, happy retirement and best wishes to our friends at Fifth Avenue Grocery.
Local Glebe resident Lorrie Loewen enjoys contributing articles and photographs to the Glebe Report and has been a regular and appreciative customer of the Fifth Avenue Grocery.