May 21, 2024

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Celebrating 75 years in downtown Stratford

Rob and Brian Blowes are celebrating a milestone on Monday, April 1

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It will be 75 years this Sunday since Blowes Cards & Gifts and Blowes Stationery & Office Supplies first opened their doors in the heart of Stratford.

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The twin family-owned businesses, now in their third generation of owners, are celebrating the milestone on Monday with an in-store contest. There’s also another contest on their Facebook page, where they’re giving away a gift basket full of health and beauty products worth more than $150. The winners will be chosen on April 1.

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The store was first opened on March 31, 1949, by the late Stan Blowes.

After a long career in the travel industry working for Trans-Canada Air Lines as the first general manager of the London International Airport, the Mitchell native wanted to start his own business and move closer to home. That’s when he bought the building that’s now Ross’ Bike Works on Wellington Street before later moving next door.

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“They needed more space, so they moved in (next door). This was actually an old Loblaws store . . . and then in the loft was the travel office,” said Brian Blowes, current owner of Blowes Cards & Gifts and Blowes Stationery & Office Supplies.

Originally, it started as Kenner’s Book Store, a books, cards and gifts retailer, but after being purchased by Stan, the operation was expanded, adding a travel agency while changing the name to Stan Blowes Book & Gift Shop and Blowes Stationery & Office Supplies.

He later moved the travel office into the building next door.

After Stan retired in the late ‘60s, his sons, Bob and Sam, each assumed management of one facet of the business. Bob administered the stationary and office side while, next door, Sam managed the travel agency. While next door, and both sharing a similar name, the two stores remain completely separate entities.

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Since Bob and Sam’s retirement, their sons have taken over. Rob, Sam’s son, runs the travel agency while his cousin Brian, Bob’s son, runs the card and office store, making them the third generation to run the family businesses.

Brian and Rob Blowes
Rob Blowes, left, stands with his cousin Brian Blowes in his store on Wellington street in downtown Stratford.(Nic Adam/Special to The Beacon Herald) Photo by Nic Adam /Nic Adam

“I think it’s important to understand that. You know, it wasn’t just us, obviously, that did this work. We’re kind of like third generation, right? So the groundwork was laid out by our grandfather, and our parents,” said Rob Blowes.

“You don’t get here by accident. You have to work at it.”

He and his cousin credit the ongoing successes of the businesses to good service and their dependability.

“There’s generations of customers that’ve continued to buy from us,” Brian Blowes said..

“I think being in the same location, and being in continuous business with the same family, it develops a trust with our customers too. . . . They can count on us.”

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That personal connection with customers has been a hallmark since the beginning, Rob Blowes said. He recalled a childhood memory of watching his uncle Bob greet customers by name as they walked in the door. He also shared stories of his grandfather driving nervous customers to the airport when commercial flights were still relatively new to make sure they actually got on their airplanes.

Now looking ahead, the two cousins are always looking for new business ventures.

Brian Blowes is currently renovating the apartments above his store, which have sat vacant since 1951. After the previous tenant left decades ago, “they boarded it up and it’s been empty ever since, so my wife and I in the process of doing apartments up there,” he said.

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