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Capital Iron to close its doors after almost 90 years

Family-run general store has been a Store Street landmark where generations of Victorians could find everything from camping and fishing equipment to nautical parts and pieces
The Capital Iron store on Store Street. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Capital Iron, the Store Street landmark that evolved from a ship-scrapping business in the 1930s to a retailer selling everything from cookware and clothing to hot tubs, tools and antiques, is shutting its doors permanently on Dec. 17. 

The family-run general store with the slogan “there’s no store like it” has been a special place where generations of Victorians could find camping and ­fishing equipment, patio furniture and hardware or forage the ­basement’s treasure trove of nautical parts and pieces. 

“It’s sad, it’s pretty raw,” ­co-owner Mike Black said Friday after a staff meeting. 

In a statement, he said he’s closing the store with a “heavy heart,” blaming the pandemic. 

“[We] have survived a world war and numerous recessions, but could not overcome the huge number of challenges that arose from COVID-19.” 

The company will close its Langford location at the same time in December. 

The Capital Iron in Sidney closed three years ago after the company chose not to renew its lease because of lack of space to display its best-selling items like patio furniture and ­barbecues. 

Capital Iron employs 45 people, down from 120 at three l­ocations at its peak a decade ago. 

Even prior to the pandemic, the store faced ­increasing ­competition from online ­shopping and big-box retailers like Canadian Tire and Home Depot. COVID-19, followed by choked supply chains, crippling staff shortages, rapid inflation and skyrocketing freight costs, was the last straw. 

Black said although supply chains have since improved, a cold and wet start to spring and summer delayed sales of many outdoor items. 

And when the weather improved, high ­inflation set in with sky-high gas and grocery prices, leaving consumers with limited discretionary spending. 

“It just adds up, and once you get behind the eight-ball, it’s hard to catch up and get back.” 

Who will occupy the Capital Iron buildings on Store Street is up in the air. 

Last year, Vancouver-based Reliance Properties acquired the Capital Iron waterfront ­property and large parking lot from owner Ronald Greene, Black’s father-in law. 

Reliance announced plans to redevelop 6.7 acres in that area of downtown in what would be one of the biggest developments in the city, including a new home for the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, currently earmarked for the Capital Iron parking lot. 

Reliance is proposing a transformation at the north end of downtown, from the ­foreshore of Victoria’s Upper Harbour east to Government Street, between Discovery and Chatham streets. The area includes the ­historic Capital Iron buildings and its parking lot, Mark’s Work Wearhouse and other businesses. 

The intention is to tear down existing buildings, except for three heritage sites — including Capital Iron — to make way for industrial and commercial space, offices, residential units, live and work units for artists, and public open space. Three towers at 10, 13 and 17 storeys are proposed. 

Reliance president Jon Stovell said the Capital Iron building, the brick building next door and a small building on Store Street that houses a pottery store would be saved. 

Reliance has submitted a pre-application to the city to rezone the land. 

Black said there was an agreement to keep Capital Iron in its building, but details on how much the business would occupy were not worked out. 

Stovell said Black shared the news with him on Friday. “Like him and everyone who cherishes this unique store, we also feel sad,” said Stovell. “The Capital Iron store means a lot to the Black family and the community, and that’s why when we purchased Capital Iron lands two years ago, we invited them to stay in a long-term lease without a rent increase. 

”We wish Mike and his family the best and thank them for their tremendous contribution to Victoria.” 

Capital Iron got its name from its history in the scrap business. Founded in 1934 by Morris L. Greene, the location on Victoria’s harbour was an ideal spot to dismantle ships. And by 1971, Capital Iron and Metals took apart nearly 100 ships of various sizes for salvaged parts and scraps. 

The ship-breaking businesses morphed into sales of ship parts. And over the years, tools, paint, clothing and just about everything you can think of was being put on shelves for sale. 

The company started buying military surplus items after the Second World War and machinery parts from dismantled cranes — even aircraft landing mats. The Greene family expanded with goods of all sorts acquired in government auctions, distress sales and fire and flood insurance claims. 

The Capital Iron store is in two buildings on Store Street — the original stone warehouse was built in 1863 for Dickson Campbell & Co., an importer and commissions agent and consisted of two floors: a lower wharf-level floor and an upper street-level floor. 

The building was one of the first along Store Street after the removal of the first Johnson Street bridge, which permitted ships to enter the upper harbour. 

Few of the original stones have survived after more than a century, but several are still visible in the store. The longitudinal beams that span 120 feet with only one joint are also still in place, as are the cast iron columns in the basement and the iron shutters visible partway up the main staircase to the second floor. 

In 1885, the property housed the Mount Royals Milling Company, which added a two-storey addition to allow for rice-milling machinery. 

Morris L. Greene rented the buildings in 1934 and opened Capital Iron & Metal Ltd. In 1980, under the guidance of Morris’s son and company president Ronald Greene, the facades of both older buildings were restored to their 1890s appearance. The restoration was recognized with the 1981 Award of Merit of the Hallmark Society and the 1982 Regional Award of Heritage Canada. 

Black, who is married to Ronald Greene’s daughter, Eveline, and are third-generation owners, said the family wants to express its appreciation to staff employed over the years, and to customers 

“We are proud of our involvement in the community these past 88 years, that includes hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations, serving on numerous boards and years of coaching the youth of Victoria in sport.”

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