An era ends this weekend at Bill and Don’s Men’s Wear in North Battleford.
After more than 45 years with the store Ben Christensen is retiring. This Saturday marks his last day working at the store.
Christensen began at the store in 1975, and working there for an initial two-month period before quitting to spend the summer at Jasper.
He was all set to head to trade school in Winnipeg when co-owner Don Ross enticed Christensen to return at an increased salary. He took the job and stayed on ever since.
Christensen bought in as a junior partner in 1980 when co-owner Bill Wheeldon retired.
He later became an equal partner alongside Don’s son Jim Ross and for the last number of years with Derek Schmidt.
Upon Christensen’s retirement, Schmidt now becomes the first sole proprietor in the store’s history.
Bill and Don’s has been a North Battleford institution since 1955, a fact Christensen is proud of.
“I like to think it’s a real community staple,” Christensen said. “We’re really, really honoured that people would have supported us all those years. Because of them, the store is still here.”
His retirement has been in the works for a while.
“It has been in the works for about a year — even pre-pandemic I would like to have maybe gone out a little earlier in 2020 but circumstances didn’t allow. Anyway, the time is right now.”
Christensen stayed to help navigate those rough waters of the pandemic. He called 2020 a “very challenging year,” especially during a period of nine weeks in 2020 when the store was mandated by the government to close due to restrictions in place.
When the business opened again under the reopening plan, they needed to adjust as the pandemic altered all facets of ordinary life. The business implemented social distancing, hand-sanitizing and other protocols, but also had to deal with a reduction in live grad ceremonies, weddings and other events.
“Our motto for our store has always been ‘for the events in your life,’” said Christensen, “and as you know the grads took on a very different form in 2020. So did all the weddings. Everything was smaller. People still had events but they were all on a much smaller scale,” said Christensen.
“We’re really happy that people still celebrated, but not as many people attended celebrations and subsequently that does affect a business like ours.”
He did note they had a great Christmas season, and appreciated people coming out and supporting them at that time. Christensen did notice they sold “more lounge and relaxing wear than we did dress wear in all the other years.”
Christensen is optimistic for the future of the business under Schmidt, and looks forward to seeing the pandemic restrictions lifted. “It’s a very viable business and we want to keep it going.”
As for his own plans for the future, he says he will miss his time with the customers.
But Christensen said he found out during the nine weeks of pandemic lockdown in 2020, when he was stuck at home like everyone else, that “retirement wouldn’t be as hard as I thought it might be.”
“I found enough to do and more and I’m quite satisfied that I think I’ll find things to do.”
One thing he was able to do about five weeks ago was acquire some cross-country skis, so he’s been doing a lot of that.
He’s also looking forward to more family time, including with his four grandchildren.
Christensen feels he is leaving on a “high note,” where he is looking forward to the future.
“I’m young enough that I’m still excited about things,” said Christensen. “I’m quite eager about the whole thing.”
His longtime business partner Derek Schmidt had this to say about Ben's retirement:
"It's an exciting opportunity for me to be sole owner of Bill and Don's Men's Wear. Just very grateful for the last 27 years I spent with Ben as a mentor and partner and wish him all the best in his new stage in life. It's pretty exciting for him and equally exciting for me."
"It's been a great learning adventure and great learning opportunity," Schmidt adds, "and it's been quite an adventure having Ben as a partner and really good friend."