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Le Courant

Automne 2017 | 19

J.R. Lefebvre Departement Store

The History of the J.R. Lefebvre Department

Raymond Lefebvre, the founder of the J.R. Lefebvre Department Store in Coaticook, was born in 1920. It is indeed this man who was the creative person behind the scenes who would attain his life's work through hard work and perserverence. You are probably wondering why the store is named J.R. Lefebvre while knowing that the founder's name is Raymond. The first question that one would ask would be, what does the letter ''J'' signify in the title of the store? Raymond Lefebvre, with his insight, noticed that the large stores or other establishments were always seen as having two initials on the storefront and he was in no doubt that this provided a better image for the business. There was no hesitation when Raymond added the ''J'' for Joseph, in as much as the name Joseph was added to a boy's name at the time of his baptism.

dsébut magasin lefebvre

                                                             J.R. Lefebvre Store

The name would define this commerce but the reality of actually establishing the business was the result of a difficult past. Raymond's mother died when she was very young and his father was paralyzed causing the family situation to be complicated. Nevertheless, this situation would form the character of the man with insight and persistence which would be of benefit to Raymond. His father was seen as incapable of working and could not even speak. The only word that he could speak was ''paper''. This was the limit of his small vocabulary. Raymond had to go to work at a young age and was forced to leave behind his dream of becoming an engineer. He began to work for the Regent's Department Store. Raymond was a man of discretion and did not speak all that much which sometimes portrayed him as a serious person, possibly very set in his ways. Actually, he was a funny man and liked a good joke (often with a poker face), teasing and joking with his employees. He was also a man with a heavy workload from the store but found the time to become involved in the community. He was a member of the Board of Directors, Caisse Desjardins de Coaticook and the Knights of Columbus for the district of Coaticook. He got involved and was also one of the founders of the Coaticook Arena along with Mr. Dupuis and Mr. Couillard. He was firmly convinced that an arena could be set up in Coaticook but did not know how the population felt. Therefore, with this in mind, he suggested to his son, Jean-Pierre, who was then six years of age, to go down to the center of town carrying a homemade sign outlining the need for an arena in Coaticook. His son played hockey, with his friends at the outdoor rink, when it was possible, but Raymond wanted to have an arena in Coaticook for this sport as this was the popular thing to build at this time. His ideas in development of various projects would be a quality that would follow him throughout his life. He loved children very much and it was not uncommon to see him after a game, meeting with them and presenting them with small gifts. He closely followed the leagues PeeWee, Moutique and Bantam and the idea of an arena was always carried close to his vest.
Mr. Lefebvre was a very hard working man and a man of high regard. He was a man of strong faith which would sustain him through the many years of his life. In the beginning, he worked for the Regent Department Store chain. This store was located on Child St., close to the brook. The Abdallah Drugstore was later located here. As an anecdote, it was mentioned that Mr. Lefebvre came to Coaticook on the bus for his first visit. He was coming to Coaticook as he had been appointed as manager of the Regent Store in Coaticook. He was also the regional director. He got off the bus at the first stop in the North End of Coaticook thinking he had arrived safely at his proper distination, only to discover that he was in the wrong place. He had to walk up the North End Hill to finally reach the center of Coaticook...where he was supposed to be! This incident took place towards the end of the 1940's.
In 1954, Raymond Lefebvre decided to open up his own department store in the place which we know today as the J.R. Lefebvre Department Store. He also started up a hardware factory. This company, which he started up with a few other people, was located in the same place where the Codet factory is found today. This metallizing plant was not a success and Raymond lost everything.
Let us return to the first department store which opened in 1954. It was located in the Bachand Building. In the beginning of this business he was associated with two persons who were very important to him and were just as capable as he was in getting things done. These two women, Mrs. Routhier and Mrs. Dube he considered, in a way, to be his right hands. Mr. Lefebvre began the business without necessarily having all the financial means at his disposal to complete a proper inventory. However, his business acumen and charm would provide him with the necessary assets. Mr. Lefebvre was able to build a good trusting relationship with the different suppliers and was able to get what he needed under more favorable marketing practices.
In 1956, the first renovation to the store was made by allowing access to the basement. This constituted a whole new addition to the business and would have more of a variety to offer to the shoppers. Originally, this store had an area of 6125 square feet which was considered a large area for shopping
In 1957, the men's clothing department was opened.
In 1967, he bought up all the assets of the Regent Store that was still in operation in Coaticook and liquidated the merchandise. This gives us a good indication of the success of Mr. Lefebvre who now dominated the shopping market in Coaticook.
In 1968, he bought the business right beside the store which was known as Beerworth Reg't. He wanted to put this area under expansion so removed all the merchandise to a new location in the front part of the business. The Beerworth stand offered refreshments to their customers and was very well known for their Root Beer floats. Beerworth also sold milkshakes, magazines and newspapers, tobacco, etc. Mr. Lefebvre rented the premises of the old post office located just across the street from the store. He kept the merchandise here until he was able to open his own news stand.
In 1969, 1970, Mr. Lefebvre bought another business beside his store which added to the extension of the business. This store was known as the Boileau Jewellery Store. The idea of further enlarging the business then brought him to the purchase of the Shell Service Station on the corner of the street and adjacent to the store. This transaction was one of the most difficult negotiations he had to carry out.
He expanded the store through the purchase of those businesses that, by 1972, he would be considered the owner of the largest shopping mart in the Eastern Townships. The Lefebvre Department Store also held the record for the largest toy department in the area until the Toys 'R' Us chain came to Sherbrooke.
Competition brings with it a certain amount of criticizm. It should be mentionned, of course, that when there is competition in the retail trade, it is important to realize that you must know when to pull your game card, in order to maintain a healthy competition. It must be also kept in mind that we must always work together with the other businesses.
In 1978, an expansion at the the back of the store allowed improved parking for delivery and reception of goods.


Jean-Pierre Lefebvre

                                                           M. Jean-Pierre Lefebvre

In 1982, Jean-Pierre, his son, demonstrated his interest in working in the store.Mr. Lefebvre asked his son to go and find a job in another store to gain experience in the trade for better understanding of the business. As such, he went to work at the Eaton's Store in Montreal and continued his studies in that city. However, during the summer period he would work in his father's store. Mr. Lefebvre was always willing to give his son the best education or training to effectively work in the business. He wanted to instill in his actions respect for the job and respect for those employees who worked for him. This principle was so fundamental and necessary to Mr. Lefebvre in view of the duties that his son would later occupy.
In 1982, Jean-Pierre and his father acquired Lemieux's men's store. This purchase was a great opportunity as it was located right next door. The two ''buyers'' bought the haberdashery and transformed the area into a sport shop known as ''Podium Sport''. The Podium Sport logo was owned by the Rona Store chain. Raymond Lefebvre was the first shareholder of this firm.
Le Podium Sport made it possible for him to invite well known sports figures like Yvan Cournoyer to pay a visit to the store. In 1983, he invited members of the Expo Baseball Club to visit the store. Coaticook came to be known as the only city of its size to host an event as important as the Expo baseball team. In order to receive this group, and to fans coming to see them, it would be necessary to completely empty the toy department to make necessary space. As well, Youpi - mascot of the Expos, Fernand Lapierre, the club organist would be there with his organ as well as noted players like Scott Sanderson and Tom Wollock. A well known man named Roger Brulotte would be the master of ceremonies. This event would also include a parade with many cheering fans.
The first trip to Coaticook by Santa Claus was organized by Raymond Lefebvre. Santa Claus arrived in Coaticook on the train. He stepped down and went to the station where he was welcomed by a large crowd. A well written speech was read by Santa Claus to all his believers, in both French and English, so that all the children present would understand the promises which Santa was to make. Following the speech, Santa asked the children to come with him over to the J.R. Lefebvre Department Store to the toy section where they would find themselves in a wonderland of toys.
Raymond Lefebvre died on March 17, 1987. At the age of 24 years, Jean-Pierre found himself having to administer a store with 85 employees. This would be quite a challenge as Jean-Pierre was involved in other businesses. Now,he had his father's store to run, all during the mourning period.


Andrée Lefebvre

                                              Renée Lefebvre, sister of Jean-Pierre

These particular years were the peak commercial period for the department store. The Carrefour de L'Estrie was a large conglomerate built as a major shopping center. The attraction of drawing many shoppers to the center resulted in greatly lowering the sale of merchandise in many of the stores in the surrounding towns.
In 1986, Jean-Pierre decided to undertake major renovations in all the departments of the store resulting in many changes. He would later admit that this action was a big mistake. Shoppers would come into the store and were confused over all the changes taking place.
In 1988, the building right beside J.R. Lefebvre known as the Provigo grocery store, came up for sale as Provigo had decided to move to a new location. This building would now be empty. Jean-Pierre noted that this building must absolutely be acquired as it was just beside the department store and also because his offices were located directly above the Provigo store.
Therefore, Jean-Pierre went ahead and bought the building and renovated space for government offices such as the Employment Center and Legal Aid. He also rented out space to Lachance Associates and Carrefour Voyages. This acquisition would also give the store access to another street known as rue du Manege, considered an important spot for parking and customer shopping.
Jean-Pierre set about making various projects from ideas given to him by his employees. One of his more interesting projects was the fashion parade. This show took place at the Polyvalent and several prizes were passed out to the participants.
Guests at these events included: Suzanne Lapointe, Serge Laprade, Angele Coutu, Jean Besre, Jean-Marc Rancourt and Yves Corbeil. It was a huge success. There were many other projects like the Night Sale, the sale by Invitation, and the very popular Christmas in July Sale.
In 1994, Jean-Pierre decided to opt out of the Podium Sport Store. The reason he did this was to raise funds in order to start up a new business. He wanted to set up a trophy market. This was a new market, not yet well-known, but Jean-Pierre decided that it would be a lucrative market to get into. He became interested in the subject when a technician came to repair a machine and started elaborating about the characteristics and advantages of such a product. Jean-Pierre took a chance in going to Las Vegas in order to meet people who would be able to support him in this field. He quickly became the Canadian distributor in trophies for two large companies. He came back to his store and organized that a warehouse be built in St. Hubert which would be where the delivery of the trophies would take place. The trophies arrived in greater numbers than expected. It was undoubtedly a billing error but the manufacturers encouraged and persuaded him to continue. All this was probably big but, even so, the order would be processed properly and everything turned out, just fine. This business continued to grow and is still in operation today. Currently the business is run by a man from France and his son is in charge of all distribution to the United States. The ties of the family are still present with the new generation and the trophy business is still being carried on.

At this particular time, Jean-Pierre attended a conference given by the Coaticook Chamber of Commerce. This conference was held by Mr. Malenfant and this man here did not hesitate to say that one must be fearless in business and risk new enterprise. This message did not fall on deaf ears and Jean-Pierre understood the message very well. That is why, all with much enthusiasm in mind, he bought a bankrupted property and negotiated those contents in Montreal. Jean-Pierre then bought up a variety of merchandise, then phoned contacts in Sherbrooke to secure a large and centrally located building. In this building, located in Sherbrooke, he would put up all this merchandise for sale. The business would be called ''The Liquidator''.
Jean-Pierre had all sorts of ideas for new projects. It was at this time that he established ''Polycrilique'' in Coaticook with Jean-Francois Gerin. This factory would manufacture trophies. He also started up a shop for toys in Magog which he called ''L'Amuserie'' (the Fun House). He also set up a print store where he could make impressions on T-shirts with ink, pencil, etc. This store, named ''JPL Impressions'' would be located above the ''Podium Sport''.
Jean-Pierre had other projects in mind. He teamed up with Alain St.Pierre in a work market study for a project known as ''Chantier''. With this market study in hand, he went and presented the project to Andre Dion of the Rona Store but he would not commit to undertake this new project. However, at a later date,the project was put into place and successful but Jean-Pierre was not given credit for the work. This just went to show that the idea was a good one as it did become a success. There was no lacking in ideas by Jean-Pierre and he would have many dreams of things to come. Unfortunately, some of these great ideas were not followed through on as the great entrepreneurs were not kept as they did not arrive at the right time. Jean-Pierre was a great visionary possessing ideas in his time, these ideas to be taken up by other people at a later date. This disappointment was not something to put him down and he would continue on with his work.
In 1989, he was 30 years of age and father of four children. He became a part of different purchasing groups of merchants. Together, they found this to be more advantageous, they could buy in bulk and, thus, benefit from better prices. The wholesalers have all but disappeared in the trade market due to the many changes in commerce. In all departments, merchants have to face competition and, group purchasing seems to be a good tactic. Trade, however, will become increasingly difficult over time. The advent of computer services will play an increasingly important role in this industry. Up to date electronic cash registers, computers and, trained staff will be needed to keep pace with all the changes that are taking place. Great changes await the retail market and its survival is becoming more and more difficult. The larger markets, such as can be found in Sherbrooke, developed their market strategy to bring the customers to them. At that time, Jean-Pierre realized that future of small businessess no longer had a place. He had to come up with some new ideas. He said it would be better to keep the name J.R. Lefebvre as the store had been in business for a long time and was a guarantee for success. He thought it would be better to incorporate several small shops within the J.R. Lefebvre Department Store.

Jean-Pierre et Carmen

                                          Carmen Michaud and Jean-Pierre Lefebvre

He began this mandate by meeting merchants from different chain stores and proposing to them that they set up a branch of their business in Coaticook. His pitch to them was how wonderful the store was, open to sales, with loyal customers. He told them that he wanted goods and services that the customers wanted at competitive prices. This is the sign of a good merchant. However, this project and all the changes that would be needed, would require investment in time and money. Jean-Pierre took on all the problems and inconveniences and saw it through until the end. He estimated that it would take over a year to complete the whole transformation. The renovations would be difficult for his employees so he tried to support them through the changes as easily as possible. He also wanted to protect the existing stock and remain friendly with the suppliers with whom he would have to negotiate orders. Many encumbranches presented themselves and these years were difficullt to get through. There was much talk about the changes taking place but only the people close to Jean-Pierre, like his friends and family, actually knew what he lived through. Going through all these growing pains would eventually allow him to go forward. This would be to understand a little better what actions can have as an effect on someone.
And Jean-Pierre finally told us that ''yes'' his father was involved in this business for 25 years and had other functions in trade which actually amounted to his being up to 32 years in business. He also mentionned that he was also very grateful to all the people who worked for him and he could not have managed to accomplish what he did all those years without their help.


Jean-Pierre Lefebvre et Jean Charest

                                           M. Jean-Pierre Lefebvre and MJean Charest

The year 2000 would see further renovations. Rental spaces were to be offered within the department store upon completion of the work. It is time to mention the businesses that came here, those businesses that left, or those businesses no longer in existance. The GGC Library, Dollar or Two, Mayfair Shoes, J.B. Lefebvres, children's clothing, Boutique Martin Thibault, the Nathalie Lapointe Hair Salon, L. Lachance and Associates were a few of the businesses located here. Subsequently, other businesses of note established themselves here. The Uniprix Drug Store run by Johanne Drolet. Several stores would be set up to accomodate the medical clinic. Jean-Pierre organized a grand opening for all these new premises to feature none other than Jean Charest. He was the Premier at the time and also a friend of Jean-Piere. He came to do the grand opening in 2008. An event such as this demonstrates well the importance and growth of the business in this community now known as Place J.R. Lefebvre.
This was an historical account that was J.R. Lefebvre and its directors. A story of success that continues to this day.

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