Market fire more than a business loss
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Market fire more than a business loss

More than just a business loss, the fire that destroyed the main building at the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market also took a piece of Tony Labrutto’s family history.

Peter, Tony and Sam of Charles Quality Meats are longtime vendors at the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market. The fire that destroyed the main building had an impact on more than just their company’s operations. [Elena Maystruk / The Observer]
Peter, Tony and Sam of Charles Quality Meats are longtime vendors at the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market. The fire that destroyed the main building had an impact on more than just their company’s operations. [Elena Maystruk / The Observer]
His father started Charles Quality Meats in 1978, and he remembers going to the market as a young child while his dad was still getting the business established. Today, he co-owns the company with his brothers Sam and Peter. Labrutto may not be able to remember just how long they’d been coming to the market, but one thing he does know is that the location has deep roots for his family. As the business moves through its second generation, some of his most treasured memories are of bringing the market tradition to his kids and letting them experience a piece of his own childhood.

“I was raised going to the market as a child. Bringing my kids there, that really makes me feel good – they see what their parents do for a living. I have fond memories with my father starting the business. My eyes are welling up. I’m glad they were able to see it, that original building. It’s kind of bittersweet.”

As with many of the others with operations there, the loss of the market space also comes with a financial impact on the business, one of the longest-running vendors.

“Financially it’s a good chunk of our business, but more so, it’s pretty hard to see. I was there this morning and it was pretty hard to look at it. As a family business we’ve been there for a long time, we spent a lot of time there. In the summer I spend more time there than I do in my own home,” Lobrutto said on Tuesday.

Fortunately for the brothers, their longstanding involvement with the market helped them acquire a temporary spot in the undamaged flea market area – known as Peddler’s Village – when the market reopened Thursday. Many of the vendors still displaced by the blaze, which caused some $4 million in damage, require preparation space and proper refrigeration not available in the outdoor area of the market, also open to the public this week, making the temporary indoor space essential.

Space has long been at a premium at the hugely popular farmers’ market – getting a spot is half the battle in doing business there, he said.

“Thousands of people go through there, and for people to have an attraction like that in their own neighbourhood … it’s that special.”

For locals who visit their favourite vendors, the market is a part of their weekly ritual, a tradition that has developed over the years, Labrutto added. The market may only run for three days out of a week but it can make up a large portion of a vendor’s bottom line. Along with tourists visiting from all over Ontario – and beyond, as the market has an international reputation – St. Jacobs is favourite destination for foodies and fans of local produce.

The popularity has made the market a prime spot for Labrutto’s business.

“It’s a definite loss. We have other locations at the Kitchener market and here in St. Agatha, but the [St. Jacobs] market is a large part of our business. Percentage-wise, it’s half of our business.”

What happens next is still up in the air, he said, but given the impact on his and other businesses, he expects vendors will be eager to return. In the meantime, the goal is to keep an active presence in the region while keeping customers served.

“The ball keeps rolling … one way or another, our customers will get their product,” Lobrutto said.

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