After 50 years, store that inspired downtown Victoria's Design District is closing

In 1970, when Greg Sager and Bob Coltart first opened their furniture store, the area around upper Government Street north of Chinatown was a bit of no-man’s land of empty lots, vacant buildings, a butcher and automotive garages.

“People were scared to walk down here,” said Sager. “Capital Iron was the only other retailer.”

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That initially left the partners wondering if a furniture store was actually going to work. “I didn’t think we’d be there a year,” Sager said.

Well, it worked. And quite well.

In fact, Victoria’s Design District was built around what Sager and Coltart started with their store. Designers, architects and other home accent and furnishing retailers started flocking in, making way for a rebirth of the forgotten far end of downtown.

“The Design District is a nice little legacy for us,” Sager said in an interview as the store started to wind down its 50-plus years at 1802 Government St.

“We were alone and gradually others started to come. As a store, we just started expanding, knocking out walls to ­create larger spaces. We were ­fortunate to create great relationships with customers who kept coming back.”

Sager, 71, and brother-in-law Coltart, 79, are heading into retirement and passing the torch to a third generation, Scott ­Coltart, son of Sager’s partner.

The Sager’s store is closing for good — the fate of the property undisclosed at this point — and Scott Coltart is restarting the brand with an emphasis on sleeper beds and other furnishings at Sager’s showroom and warehouse property at 2809 Quesnel St.

Greg Sager’s and Bob ­Coltart’s store was originally a satellite of the Sager’s seven-store chain, founded by Sager’s father Henry and brother Mel in 1956 in ­Vancouver and Calgary.

Six of the other stores closed as family members retired, but the Victoria location endured.

Sager said the key to longevity was hiring good staff, making sure customers were happy, spotting design trends early and resisting the cheaper brands for higher quality lines sourced from Europe, Canada and the United States.

That enabled the company to weather the onslaught from big-box retailers and many other competitors who have come and gone over the years.

“We’ve really seen it all over the past 50 years,” said Sager. “We started selling maple colonial, then finer furniture, the arts-and-crafts movement leather … we just kept moving with the trends,” said Sager.

“Now the trend is for smaller living spaces.”

The rapidly changing ­marketplace was writing on the wall for Coltart and Sager, who were more than ready to retire.

“Have you been to a Tesla dealership? Nowadays you don’t need a big showroom. You can just have a car in there and a big screen for people to pick fabrics and colours,” he said. It’s the modern way of retailing now.”

Sager is selling all of its downtown stock in a closeout sale, hoping to empty the space by the end of April.

The company is assuring ­customers that all outstanding custom orders will be fulfilled and delivered from Sager’s Quesnel Street warehouse.

dkloster@timescolonist.com

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