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Leonard Wise, owner of Harry Wise Menswear

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Leonard Wise, owner of Harry Wise Menswear
First name Leonard
Last name Wise
Age 53
Date of birth July 9, 1926
Community Paris


Story

This interview has been contributed by the Paris Museum and Historical Society. It was taken in August, 1979, by a volunteer for the Paris Public Library.

Interview

Q. When was this store started (Harry Wise-Menswear)?

A. This store was started in 1919-August 19, 1919. It will be 60 years- My father came from Toronto but he originally came from Poland-1912. He came to Paris in 1919-bought a store up the street-113 Grand River St. N, He stayed there until 1925. In 1925 he moved to the present location-73 Grand River St. N. He got married-had four children-I'm the oldest of them and I now operate the business.

Q. And what are your brothers' and sisters' occupations?

A. Well, the next one, Melvin-he's a doctor in Montreal, I have a sister in Toronto who is a graduate nurse. She's married- and I have a brother who is a traveller.

Q. It was always a clothing store then?

A. Well, my father operated it-yes. The store he originally bought was a cleaning-pressing store but be converted it to Menswear. He was a fully apprenticed tailor before he left Europe.

Q. And how old was he when he came to Canada?

A. Approximately 16 to 17 years old when he came to Canada.

Q. Did he come by himself?

A. Yes.

Q. was he the only child in his family?

A. No. There was a brother in Toronto. There were boys, one girl.

Q. What were his parents occupation in Poland?

A. They were farmers.

Q. Did he have to leave to come to Canada?

A. Social and economic conditions in Poland were- actually, he lived in Poland before World War I which was when Poland was occupied by Russia, and social conditions weren't the best-religious matters didn't help any so If he had stayed until he was twenty-one he would have been conscripted into the Russian army.

Q. Could he at that time leave Poland freely or did he have to sneak out?

A. It was a combination of both. He sort of sneaked out. He wasn't eligible until twenty-one for conscription so he got out. As I say he had an older brother in Toronto.

Q. And whom did he marry?

A. Rose Offstein was her name. She lived in Toronto but had come from Russia to Toronto before WWI. Her claim to fame was that she sewed buttons on army uniforms. She was Russian by birth. She married my father in 1925. And up to twenty-one or two years ago they lived in an apartment up above the store. That's where we were raised.

Q. So you were raised in Paris and lived here all your life?

A. Yes. I happen to live in Brantford now.

Q. I assume you worked in your dad's store before you took it over?

A. Yes since I was born-I actually came into the business in 1947. In 1971 I bought the business from my father. He remained active in the business until he died a few years ago.

Q. Who were your neighbours here when your father started business at this location?

A. Well, when my father started in-there was a photographer next door- there was a Cairn's store. Then the A&P was there for years. Then Stedmans moved in and the Credit Union is there now. On the other side- when I was a kid there was a butcher shop- Ernie Wooden had a butcher shop. Then Miss McMillan took over- she's dead now.

Q. Do you have any children of your own?

A. Yes I have two daughters.

Q. are they interested in the store?

A. Well, they're girls- the oldest daughter is going to enter the Faculty of Law at York University. She finished two years at the University of Toronto and she's going into Osgood Hall this fall. The younger one is going into third form at high school.

Q. What are your plans for the store?

A. Small businesses aren't very saleable. I contemplate some type of retirement between sixty end sixty-five so I can see what the rest of the world is doing.

Q. when did you move into Brantford?

A. About fifteen years ago.

Q. I hear you active in the international villages?

A. Well I was past chairman of the village. I'm past chairman of the Recreation Commission (Paris), President of the Kinsman club twice, President of the Retail Merchants Association.

Q. Do you see any expansion coming to downtown Paris?

A. It's feasible but maybe not probable.

Q. Do you think that the businessmen resist change?

A. I was told years ago- the older you get the more retiscent you are to change. But no, I'd say that the businessmen in the Town of Paris have been more progressive than alot of communities up to and including Brantford. We had Merchant Associations long before we met any Downtown Improvement Associations anyplace around the country. I think that in Paris we might have one empty store. Paris is a very stable town. It's not a boom or bust town. Even during the Depression there was a pay day in Paris- it wasn't very big but it was a pay day.

Q. When your father first came and started the business was it a more prosperous time than now?

A. No it wasn't. Paris has never had high economic conditions. They had several "depressions" in the early 1920's culminated in 1929 with the Great Depression.

Q. Did this business ever come to the brink of disaster?

A. Oh, many times my father said lots of times in years gone by. He survived because of his tailoring experience. One of the stories he tells of how he got started was buying bell-bottom pants, fifty years ago- and taking the bell-bottoms out of them and selling them. As I say, there are very few merchants in Paris that retire as millionaires from their business unless they have other investments.

Q. Have you ever thought of moving your business to Brantford or somewhere else?

A. Not really- I'm not that aggressive. Malls eat up independence.

Q. So you enjoy your independence?

A. Yes, to the point where I think I'm overly independent. I only hire casual help- do what I can and sell what I can. I may never be a millionaire but at least I'll enjoy living. Paris is a very nice place.

Q. I noticed your cash register. Was that your dad's?

A. Well, my father bought it and it wasn't new then. Everyone's fascinated with our cash register. Most cash registers are put in for security reasons more than economic.

Q. So you hire part-time help.

A. Yes. My wife also helps.

Q. What was her maiden name?

A. Turk. She's from Toronto.

Q. Would you mind giving me your birthdate?

A. July 9, 1926.

Q. Is your father still alive?

A. No. He died several years ago.

Q. And your mother?

A. She died a few years before him.

Q. What ere your daughters' names?

A. The oldest is Rhonda and the younger daughter's name is Diane.

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