Williams Lake Tribune
With more than four decades in business Walt Cobb has seen big changes in the retail business landscape.
From the trend to more casual wear to the box-store invasion and offshore manufacturing, it was a different world when, in 1969, he put down business roots in the community as owner of Walt’s Mens Shop.
But after 41 years in the men’s clothing business – give or take a few – he’s decided to call it quits.
It wasn’t an easy decision, says Cobb. Tougher financial times – including the rejection of Prosperity mine – meant it became harder to turn a profit and, in order to make money he had to work the store rather than his employees.
That, coupled with the growing challenge of maintaining knowledge of fashion trends, helped Cobb make the decision.
Cobb’s mixed feelings are apparent in his response to a customer’s congratulations.
“I guess it’s congratulations,” he replies. “I’m not happy about it.”
Cobb started out in business working for another men’s wear store.
It was to be sold and, rather than work for the owner, Cobb decided to start his own venture. Initially there were thoughts of moving north to Houston, B.C. where a sawmill had recently opened up but a friend talked him out of it.
“At that time they were all small, independent stores,” he says.
“There were no chains.”
One of the biggest difficulties Cobb has faced as a small business owner has been an inability to secure bank financing.
He faced an uphill battle as the banks would not lend to his business, citing a lack of collateral despite the fact he had numerous other assets, including the building he owned.
He finally secured a loan when elected a provincial MLA; the bank recognized he was secure with a salary.
As for the benefits: “Being in business for yourself gives you a chance to be involved in the community,” he says.
“You could really be involved as long as there was staff to take your place when you weren’t there. I really enjoyed it.”
That involvement included 16 years on city council and a term as MLA.
Despite the challenges of recent times, Cobb says the men’s wear business has made him a good living over the years.
There was a period in the 1990s when the family sold the store only to repurchase it later and have it run by Randy, Walt’s son.
It’s unlikely that the closure of Walt’s Mens Shop in January will leave Cobb with little to do.
As a Rotarian, president of the Williams Lake & District Chamber of Commerce, an executive member of the B.C. Liberal party, and being on the board of directors for both the Barkerville Heritage Trust and the science innovation council, Cobb isn’t sinking into retirement quietly.