20 Questions with Dave LeDrew of the Newfoundland Emporium
CORNER BROOK, NL — Known for its unique assortment of antiques, crafts and gifts as much as for the man who runs it, the Newfoundland Emporium has been a Broadway staple in Corner Brook for 33 years.
Prior to opening the store in 1989, Dave LeDrew had completed a 10-year stint as head of Marble Mountain when he found himself unemployed.
“I had an empty building that I couldn’t rent. I had no job. So, I had all this space and I was like, ‘Well, fuck, I’m going to open a craft store.’ »
He said he was pushed a little in this direction by his business partner, Michel Levasseur, who had worked at Marble Mountain with him.
“So I reluctantly went in because of him,” LeDrew said.
LeDrew said Corner Brook was too small to support the size of the store they had, so they had to do something other than crafts.
“And antiquing seemed like a logical thing to do. I had plenty of space and lots of old furniture lying around.
Things that came from his own basement. Pieces he had collected during his travels around the island in the summer.
LeDrew said Newfoundlanders made most of their own furniture out of necessity, but not much is left.
“Unfortunately, most good things were taken to the continent by merchants who came here after Confederation.”
A lot of pine furniture ended up in Quebec, where it lost its Newfoundland identity and became old furniture, he said.
But there’s more than furniture in the 6,000 square foot store.
“My spot is blocked,” LeDrew said.
The last time he took inventory, there were 15,555 items – antiques, crafts, books, records, quirky items, knitwear, jams and the list goes on – filling the three-level store.
There is even more of a variety of items at the Watton store location in Pasadena.
“It’s a place of curiosity,” he said of the store in an old railway building that was once a general store and post office open only in the summer.
In some ways, the Emporium has become more of a museum than a store.
“A lot of my stuff is so precious that I won’t sell it, but sometimes I will give it away,” LeDrew said with a laugh.
“I like to keep them,” he said, pointing to a dresser with drawers made from old Purity Factory crates. “Because you can’t replace them.”
One thing he will never part with is the top of a desk from the old Corner Brook Public School. He found it in the school basement before it was torn down.
There are about 50 names engraved on the desk, but two stand out for the little stars they have placed – his own, David, and LuLu, otherwise known as Betty Lou, his wife of 64 years.
LeDrew recently turned 87, and although he’s semi-retired, you’ll still find him at the Emporium most days. The store is only open half-days in winter.
He continues to work because he enjoys spending time at work, meeting people and sharing stories with them.
Despite the lack of space, he still enjoys finding items to add to the store to sell and display.
And he can’t pass a Newfoundland book without buying it.
“I probably have more books than any bookstore in Newfoundland. I must have 5,000 Newfoundland pounds.
Even though he loves it, the antiques and crafts business is tough, LeDrew said.
“There is no business. It was always marginal. We’ve never made any money since we’ve been here, but we’ve never lost any,” he said.
Even in the summer, the store barely earned enough to survive the winter.
“For the past two years, because of the pandemic, you can’t even do that. There is simply no money.
“We depend on travellers,” he said, adding that cruise ship, bus tour and airline traffic came to a halt when the COVID-19 pandemic started, and not everything did not resume.
A saving grace for the Newfoundland Emporium lies across the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Halifax, where Levasseur runs his Carrefore Atlantic Emporium.
This store was opened about 20 years ago after a Nova Scotia Minister of Tourism returned to Halifax saying he needed a store like the Newfoundland Emporium.
A more upscale boutique located in the Historic Properties, the Carrefore Atlantic Emporium sells items from all provinces.
The store does well enough, even during the winter, to help sustain the Corner Brook store.
For the past two years, LeDrew’s assistant at the store — he calls her “my daughter” — has been working to expand the store’s reach via social media.
LeDrew isn’t sure it makes a difference and jokes that Facebook will never understand.
His daughter, otherwise known as Leigh-Ann Maxwell, has worked with LeDrew for about 18 years.
As she explains how she got started, LeDrew jokes in the background, “She couldn’t get a real job.”
It’s the typical response she expects from her boss, and the way they joke back and forth would suggest they’re related, but they’re not.
When asked what she likes about this place, she replies, “I can’t tell you. He is always there.
But if it wasn’t for LeDrew, Maxwell said, she wouldn’t be here yet.
“Because if it was someone else running the place, it wouldn’t be the same,” she said.
“Dave is the best boss you can find.”
She calls it marvelous terrible, saying it comes from the book “This Marvelous Terrible Place: Images of Newfoundland and Labrador.” LeDrew likes the book and there is always at least one copy in the store.
“Sometimes he’s just the best guy in the world and other times, and it doesn’t have to be big, but sometimes something grabs him and he’s like, ‘I’m grumpy now.’ And he’s really going to say that,” she said with a laugh.
“He’s a quirky, eccentric, wonderful, terrible, a wealth of knowledge, a pain in the ass, but I love him very much.”
Maxwell said the store is an institution in the community and she will be sad to see it go.
The Newfoundland Emporium building has been up for sale for more than a year, and when it’s sold, LeDrew said, it will close shop.
His plan is to donate much of the antiquities to museums in western Newfoundland.
Until then, he’ll stick with it, probably adding more items to the store and dreaming of when he’ll have more time for himself to fish.
1. What is your full name?
David Barry LeDrew.
2. Where and when were you born?
St. John’s, January 1935.
3. Where do you live today?
4. What is your favorite place in the world?
The sandbanks at Burgeo. We have a little cabin there, right by the water.
5. Who do you follow on social media?
Never heard of it.
6. What would people be surprised to learn about you?
Not that I would tell them. I don’t understand why anyone cares about me.
7. What was your favorite year and why?
1958. Ask My Wife. (That’s the year they got married.)
8. What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
9. Can you describe an experience that changed your life?
I have so many experiences. It’s hard to say just one.
10. What is your greatest indulgence?
Fish when I can fish.
11. What is your favorite movie or book?
I used to read a lot, but I don’t seem to have the time, or maybe I read it all. I love a lot of old movies, even black and white ones, and anything featuring Fred Astaire, or Gene Kelly, and anything we saw in the Majestic 50 years ago.
12. How do you like to relax?
Watch old movies and read.
13. What are you reading or watching at the moment?
I like to sit in the evening and watch real old movies and musicals and that kind of thing.
14. What is your biggest fear?
I have a lot of worries, but no fear. I just wonder what will happen with the world.
15. If you sang karaoke, what would your song be?
16. What do you treasure the most?
My woman. I have to say it because it could be printed.
17. What physical or personality trait are you most grateful to a parent for?
I think I got my work habits from my father, who never stopped working. My love of food, I guess I got it from my mother. She was the best cook in the world, like most mothers.
18. Which three people would join you for the dinner party of your dreams?
Winston Churchill, Gandhi and Donald Trump.
19. What is your best quality and what is your worst quality?
I can’t think of one because they are all so good. Sometimes I’m too casual.
20. If you hadn’t chosen this career path, what would you have chosen?
If I wanted to do something that I could do, if it were possible, I would like to be on stage with Pavarotti and Mario Lanza, The Great Caruso. I would like to be on stage as a tenor, but I can’t sing.