About Lafontaine

It began with an idea, put forth during a drive home from visiting our sick mother in Toronto. Our children were growing up and going to school. This allowed some free time during the day – time to do something exciting and different. An antique store, we thought, with perhaps a bit of home décor.

Well, that idea took hold, & before long it seemed to take on a life of its own. A friend’s historic building in downtown Whitby became available, we began to pool ideas for stock and search through a gift show book for sources & wholesalers, acquired a front counter from a father-in-law, & decided on a paint colour. A Sunday night dinner’s brainstorming came up with our name, Lafontaine, the birthplace of our Maternal Grandmother, & ‘trading post’, an old fashioned store.

Family members who could, ‘invested’ in the store, but its primary owners are Barb Power & Cathy Rousseau. “We come from a very large family, however, and over the years there have been other sisters, brothers, brother & sister in laws & parents who have helped and/or been involved in varying degrees. This has allowed for a fabulous intermingling of styles & taste, which is the real flavour of Lafontaine.”

We opened up a mere 6 weeks later, all fresh & new, with about $7000.00 worth of stock, and very little experience. A brother-in-law, who had been running his own comic book store for 7 years prior, provided good advice when needed. Our sign was made by a local sign maker, in the popular carved style. It has proven an excellent investment, as it is our logo, & we never tire of it.

After three years, we moved into our second store, another historic, charming building that “is recognized by Heritage Canada as historically & architecturally significant.” (Brian Winter, Town Archivist) The building had been empty for 13 years, and, using an old picture provided by the Town Archivist, we restored the front façade to the original design. The colours and renovations inside are all reminiscent of 1859, the year the building was erected.

We still have a great, old fashioned ambiance, but now our stock consists of high fashion, funky clothing including Brenda Beddome, (a high profile Toronto designer), as well as quality, comfortable, edgy shoes RUDSAK. We pride ourselves in offering our customers wonderful, well priced jewellery and interesting home décor that is exciting and different. A lot of our product is exclusive and can’t be found anywhere else in the Durham Region. Our customers love this feature. Buying different products has always been fun and people tell us that the diversity of three different personalities (another sister helps with the buying) comes through in the stock and the display thereof.

Business Achievements & Awards

  • November, 1991 – OUTSTANDING BUSINESS OF THE YEAR AWARD from Business Improvement Area
  • May, 1995 – BARB POWER BUSINESS PERSON OF THE YEAR from Whitby Chamber of Commerce
  • December 1993 BEST FLOAT AWARD Whitby J.C’s Santa Claus Parade
  • December 1995 BEST FLOAT AWARD Whitby J.C.’s Santa Claus Parade

Lafontaine Trading Post is a family business. We have learned that the support of family and friends has been of paramount importance. It is a wonder how any business can survive without it. Lafontaine Trading Post has enjoyed a slow, steady growth since opening in November 11, 1989. This may have been viewed as a bad time to open, considering the recessionary times after the early 80’s boom of economy and a lot of retail was struggling. For us, never having experienced the rich environment of higher sales in the retail market was to our advantage, as we therefore didn’t expect it, or even miss it. This allowed us the patience that is required for solid growth that comes from word of mouth and community involvement. It has now been 28 years, and we enjoy great deal of respect and notoriety from the businesses and our community as well as the Town of Whitby. We have long been a popular place to shop and visit in our Downtown!

Expansion

In 1992, moved to a larger location, again in 2007 to 100 Brock St. S, right at the 4 corners! At this time we dropped the 'Trading Post', opting for a more modern LAFONTAINE. Our clothing has evolved; now we are everything to most; classic, edgy, funky, retro, unique. This is where people come when they seek something no one else has!

Adversity, Challenge

As with any business, there have been many. However the biggest setback of all was February 4, 1997, when thieves broke into our store overnight and took approximately $20,000 in stock. What’s worse- due to a loophole, we were not covered by insurance!

The kindness and support of wholesalers was overwhelming. Brenda Beddome offered replacement stock at greatly reduced prices; other suppliers accommodated us by extending our due dates. The community read about the break-in in the newspaper & offered help. The Whitby Courthouse Theatre even had a fundraiser performance, with proceeds to us. With this extra time, and patient bookkeeping, we were able to overcome. It still took us about 2 years to recover totally.

Our mother, who has been our inspiration, as well as actively helping out in the store, passed away in November, 1999. Close friends stepped in to help run the store during that time. In November, 2001, our father died. Again, with the help of close friends, we were able to carry on. Our parents were an incredible source of support, inspiration & love. We will always miss them.

In 1998 we had rented a mini-golf course to run in front of the store during the annual County Town Carnival. It failed to show up. We recovered quickly by bringing out ‘stomp’, a family member’s percussion group. The Town was disappointed; we received an apology letter from the rental company. Making our own golf course was the answer, using & naming each hole after a Downtown business. We have since donated it to Fairview Lodge for their annual summer event.

Advertising & Promotions

Advertising, as always, is the biggest question of all – its very expensive, and does it work? Newspaper ads are too ‘fleeting’ only a small percentage of people would notice a single ad. Not that we haven’t done newspaper ads, we have always participated in advertising when there is a special event, and co-op opportunities. We have advertised in ‘Century Home’ magazine, as well as tried, with limited success, ValPak coupons. The last few years, our Christmas advertising has been a postcard, distributed via Ad mail. Last year, 2001, we took part in co-op TV ads throughout December.

In the year’s prior, we generated small catalogues, and, with our childrens’ help, delivered them ourselves for the 1st year & thereafter had them delivered via post.

We have learned that our windows are the best way to display what we are all about and we have enticed many a new customer because of them. Interior displays are always attractive and beguiling and often the sale is based on the display.

We have tried almost all types of advertising, but believe that the greatest exposure is having a strong presence in the community. While admittedly this tactic takes a very long time for any noticeable results, it has worked well for us & we believe we enjoy a great deal of respect from the business and general population of Whitby. Our taking part in the community, as well as having numerous promotions, has given us many articles and pictures in the local newspaper - excellent exposure.

    For example:
  • We have always been active in the local BIA.
  • We have given countless gifts for charity events,
  • one of us has been active in the Good Neighbours program,
  • have been very active in the ‘Business Improvement Area’, as part of the Board of Directors organizing, running events, always making ure we run a prominent event in front of our store.
  • We were featured on the CTV’s Eye on Toronto, a magazine format television show.

Alternative Marketing Strategies

  • In 1991 we became the official ticket outlet of the Whitby Courthouse Theatre, selling tickets to their productions. Since then, we have been approached by other charities & non-profit organizations to sell their event tickets. During the fall in particular we may have tickets for as many as 6 different events! >It may seem daunting at times, but we have now become the place to check for tickets in Whitby. Consequently we have garnered many, many new customers from ticket buyers who browse.
  • Took part in Midnight Madness sales
  • Entered the Santa Claus Parade from 1990-1995
    • 1990: horse & buggy, 1991: 1922 car, 1992: fairytales,
    • 1993: Jack in the boxes * awarded best float
    • 1994: Christmas scene, 1995: Fairyland * awarded best float
  • Hosted Santa in the store on 2-3 occasions
  • Hosted a “Spring Speaker Series” in 1992 which included a SPRING HOME DECORATING Seminar where we hired CITY TV’s Jacqueline Glass an ENGLISH TEA PARTY with traditional Milner Karyn Gingras of Lilliput Hats
  • Orchestrated a detailed, fun fashion show of our clothing on three occasions. The first was in May 1991, in the store, and two, April 1999 & April 2000, were held in the adjoining restaurant where we added food & entertainment to the show.
  • Sponsored a little league Soccer Club in 1994.
  • Built our own ‘Town of Whitby’ 9 hole mini golf course which we use in the road in front of the store during the Whitby County Town Carnival. It is one of the most popular events.
  • Sponsored & organized a Sidewalk Art Contest for the 9 years.
  • Sponsored & organized Art on the Green, an art show & sale for three years.
  • Commissioned local artist, Sean McQuay to do a painting for the outside of the store in May, 1994. It is still there.
  • Had local musicians playing in the store on numerous occasions.
  • Provided clothing for a charity fashion show 2-3 times.
  • Took part in the Station Art Gallery’s Christmas House Tour by decorating one of the homes.
  • We have hosted a ‘Mens Night’ of shopping at Christmastime for 4 years.