British Columbia

After 4 generations and 100 years, an iconic family-run business is closing in Prince George

Opened in downtown Prince George in 1919, Northern Hardware & Furniture has been run by four generations of the Moffat family, including Harold Moffat, the city's mayor from 1970 to 1979.

Crime, climate change and online shopping all cited as reasons for closure of The Northern

Opened in downtown Prince George in 1919, Northern Hardware & Furniture has been run by four generations of the Moffat family, including Harold Moffat, the city's mayor from 1970 to 1979. His granddaughter, Kelly Green, will be the store's final president when it shuts down in February 2020. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

After four generations and 100 years, an iconic family-run business in Prince George will be closing its doors this February.

Northern Hardware & Furniture Company, better known as "The Northern" by locals, was opened in 1919 by Alex B. Moffat and today is run by his great-granddaughter, Kelly Green.

Green said shutting down is a difficult decision, but one that's been a long time coming as the store has contended with a changing business climate.

"It's not an overnight decision," she said, citing the rise in online shopping and the arrival of big box stores as factors contributing to declining sales.

She also said growing social problems downtown and climate change have been factors.

Northern Hardware opened at its current location in 1940 and has been considered an anchor for downtown Prince George. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

"I was surprised by how much weather drives a business," she said. "Global warming: If we don't have hard winters and proper seasons, it's kind of like you're in limbo so people aren't buying snow shovels and the things you need."

But Green said she wanted to focus on the positive side of the store's history as she prepares to shut down.

"Our bank account with the Bank of Montreal is 005 [an early account]," she said.

"I started working here at 16 years old ... It's my only job. [But] everything has a lifespan and we made it 100. That's a good ending."

After 100 years and four generations, Northern Hardware will be shutting its door in the new year. Kelly Green speaks about the decision to close the store her grandfather opened in 1919. 8:55

'It's going to leave a hole as big as a chasm': historian

Local historian Valerie Giles said when she first moved to Prince George in 1993, she was told it was impossible to understand the city without understanding the Northern and Harold Moffat — Alex B. Moffat's son, Green's grandfather and the city's mayor from 1970 to 1979.

Inside the Northern, multiple walls are covered with framed newspaper clippings from the stores 100-year history. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Eventually, she wound up writing a book titled "Harold Moffat and Northern Hardware: Prince George icons."

Giles said it was the family's dedication to community service that helped make the Northern so special and both the store and the Moffats helped drive the city's growth from the 1910s to 1970s.

At one point, she said, the store had multiple downtown locations before consolidating operations in its current building, which opened in 1940.

"It's going to leave a hole as big as a chasm," Giles said when asked what the Northern's closure would mean for the community.

'We're all in shock': Customers react

Community reaction to news of the closure was swift, with many expressing surprise and dismay.

"We're all in shock. Everybody you talk to," said Lynn Jorgensen, a regular customer since moving to Prince George in 1968.

Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirly Bond expressed her gratitude to the store's owners and staff for their service to the community, calling it a "sad day."

A young shopper enjoys the Christmas decorations for sale in the Northern. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Tracy Calogheros, the CEO of the Exploration Place Museum, called the Northern a "community institution" and promised the museum would have a home for any of the store's "artifacts" — including Champion, a vintage mechanical horse that children can still ride for a dime.

Giles said the Northern had a long history of going above and beyond, even talking people out of buying items they didn't need.

Green said her phone had been ringing steadily since she made news of the closure public.

Green promised that Champion, a vintage mechanical horse that still costs a dime to ride, will be given to a good home. Tracy Calogheros, the CEO of the Exploration Place Museum in Prince George, expressed interest in adding the toy to the museum's collection. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

"A lot emotions, a lot of 'Wow, I can't believe it's happening,'" she said. 

"It is a loss, especially for downtown Prince George, but we are choosing to focus on, you know, the good: 100 years. It's a great way to end."

About the Author

Andrew Kurjata

CBC Prince George | @akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is an award-winning journalist covering Northern British Columbia for CBC Radio and cbc.ca, situated in the traditional territory of the Lheidli T'enneh in Prince George. You can email him at andrew.kurjata@cbc.ca.

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