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Family business continues to thrive after 75 years

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Making a success of a small family business can be a difficult task. Having that business remain a success for 75 years is almost unheard of.
Such is the case with Black’s Cycle and Sporting Goods, which has been going strong for three-quarters of a century after humble beginnings in 1945 when Ernie Black started a bicycle repair shop with $800 borrowed from a family member.
After growing up in southern Manitoba, Black joined the air force in 1941 as a mechanic. After training in Winnipeg, Black was stationed in Brandon and St. Thomas, Ont., before finally landing at the No. 10 SFTS in Dauphin as a member of the ground crew. In 1943 he remustered to train as a pilot, receiving his wings in 1945.
With the war nearing its end, Black was discharged and returned to Dauphin.
After working briefly as a mechanic for Allard’s Garage, Black opened his first store on July 16, 1945, in a 10-foot by 24-foot space at the corner of Main Street and First Avenue South West, rented from Alf Buckwold for $17 a month.
In 1948, Black moved the business to its present location, renting the southern half of the front of the building from the Oddfellows Lodge. As he expanded the lines of sporting goods he carried, Black acquired space in the building as it became available and in 1960 was able to purchase the building from the Oddfellows.
Continuing to grow the business Black added a workshop in the 1970s and a full basement under the back portion of the building in the 1980s.
“He had harder times, I would say, in the late ‘40s and ‘50s, and even the early ‘60s, it was hard to make a living out of this place, really,” said Black’s son Lorne, who has workied at the business since 1974, becoming a part owner in 1982 and full owner, along with his wife Bernice, in 1989.
“It wasn’t until the 70s when he started to make money.”
The business has changed over the years, Lorne said, as his father carried a wide range of sporting goods and over the last 30 years he and his wife have narrowed the focus.
“He sold everything, all kinds of things, every kind of sporting good there was,” Lorne said, adding the arrival of other sporting goods stores on the scene forced him to change the business model.
“Bikes, archery, different types of hunting, shooting and fishing. The bikes started it all and I enjoy them. And the firearms I really never tire of. That’s my thing. I really enjoy that.”
With the focus narrowed, Lorne and Bernice have concentrated on quality, making sure their customers get top-of-the-line merchandise.
As an example, the store has started to sell ebikes, which have really been selling well, he added.
“Actually better than I thought they would, because they’re not cheap. And I’m not selling cheap ones. I’m not selling the kind you can buy online,” Lorne said.
“Instead of expanding in different things that we carry, I think what we’ve grown and expanded in is the amount we have of specific items. We’ve specialized more,” Bernice added.
For example, Black’s carries ammunition - calibres and brands - which are hard to find anywhere else.
“We have people come from Winnipeg to buy ammo here. There is people who come from out west to buy ammunition,” Lorne said.
Online and out-of-town shopping has also really changed the way business is done in a small community, he added. It wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic forced people to stay at home that he saw the full potential of the bike business.
“We had a bike season that I would never even have dreamed of,” Lorne said, adding the two of them sold more than 120 bicycles in a six-week period and more than 160 over the season so far.
“My dad he wouldn’t believe it, if he was here to tell.”
Lorne said there was a day in the 1970s when 17 or 18 bikes sold, but there has been no other season like this.
“That only happened one day. This year we have had eight and nine consistently a day,” he said.
“It is just too bad that it took COVID for it to happen.”
COVID has also dictated the way Lorne and Bernice will celebrate the buisness’ Diamond Anniversary.
Instead of a one-day celebration on July 16, the revelry will last throughout the month with special draws, Lorne said.
“Our suppliers have been very generous donating prizes,” he said.
They will also have displays of old bicycles, pictures and records from throughout the business’ history.
“We’ll have some history for people to look at. Bikes, I have one bike that’s way older than the businesses actually. It’s one of the earliest CCMs I’ve ever seen,” Lorne said.
“I am going to put some of them up on the stands.”