London’s best Bud retires antique shop, yet memories remain
You know those old haunts that you take for granted, that you think will always be there… the ones you pass by on your way to work, or whilst out on your lunch hour. The kind that seem like they’ve always been there, and always will be? A place you visited after school, on a vacation, or that you’d go to find that something special? Well, recently one of those haunts closed its doors… Forever. This post will be longer than usual; but, with so many years of local and personal history, I hope you’ll come along for the walk down memory lane.
When I really start thinking about the closing of this particular haunt, I get pretty teary, given that I won’t be able to walk in there whenever I feel the urge, nor hear the jingle of the bells over the door when I enter. Whether it was to look for something specific or to shoot the breeze with the proprietor, I’m a little annoyed with myself that I didn’t make more time to go in as often as I may have liked.
But there it is. The owner of the shop is well deserving of a rest and has certainly earned his retirement. I’m happy for Bud. Yes that’s right, Bud. Bud Gowan. Antiques dealer and founder of Bud Gowan Formal wear. He really did retire this time, after more than 60years in business. At 85 years young Bud is ready to officially retire. “It’s time…” Bud said, “I’ve enjoyed going to work every day for almost 65 years. You get to meet new people and hear so many interesting stories.”
Bud’s story as an entrepreneur is pretty interesting itself. As one of London’s most unique and well-known shops, Bud Gowan Antiques opened its doors at the Clarence Street location in 1990. But long before that, Bud was an active member of London’s retail community with his first business venture as a men’s clothier in April of 1952. His first shop was located on Dundas Street, the current location of the Ontario Superior Court. He quickly developed a Canada-wide reputation as a retailer of fine quality menswear, superior customer service, style, and a special eye for detail. Owning or renting a Bud Gowan suit soon became a London tradition. During his time at the original Dundas Street location, Bud also opened an antiques store nearby on the same street. When the city appropriated both properties in 1970, he focused more on his antiques business and began exporting from the United Kingdom.
In 1971, Bud opened his menswear business at a new location on Clarence Street, where it grew to be so successful that he retired, for the first time, in 1985. His son Paul carried on the business, strengthening the reputation for quality and style, running the menswear division while also growing the formal wear side of the business. The formal wear division expanded in 1981, moving to 184 York Street. In 2005, Paul sold both businesses and the successful Bud Gowan formal wear brand lives on today in London.
Despite his retirement from menswear, Bud decided to re-open his antiques business in 1990 at 387 Clarence Street. And, what a perfect location. The building was built in the late 1890s as an extension to the Reid blank book and stationary factory to house the Featherbone Company which made corsets. The original Reid building, established in the late 1880s burned down in 1923, so the building that Bud Gowan bought for his clothing shop, and later antiques shop, was itself an antique with its own story. In addition to housing the corset factory until the 1920s, the building was later used as a warehouse for The London Shoe Company in the 1940s and 50s.
When Bud Gowan moved onto the premises and set up shop to sell and collect antiques, he filled it with treasures purchased from local estates and imported from around the world; what was a passionate hobby ultimately became a thriving business.
Part of his success was his great memory for each piece in his shop, meaning one would also get a story with each purchase. Many items in the shop are personal, having a Bud Gowan history of their own, such as the stained glass window and menu from Seven Dwarfs restaurant where he and his wife Gwen met in 1950. This must be why sometimes Bud appeared reluctant to let pieces go and drove a hard bargain. His many signs around the shop made one well aware that he meant business!
My first memory of Bud Gowan began with a chance meeting downtown when I was barely a teenager. I was hanging-out, as we say, in front of the old Ace Arcade and pool hall, two doors down from his antique shop. I was waiting for the arcade to open. Wearing one of my usual eccentric outfits (Doc Martins and a tuxedo jacket with tails and striped black and white tights), I paced back and forth in boredom. It should happen that a man passed me once, and then again some 15-20 minutes later. He stopped. He looked at me, chuckled and said, “It looks like the changing of the guard!!”. I did something cheeky, such as a salute or a theatrical bow. I then smiled and laughed with him before he continued on to his antique shop. What a nice man, I thought.
The second memory I have of Bud was through my brother Anthony Lutz’s business, who despite the challenges of muscular dystrophy, was a successful pop artist, sporting a studio in the business offices of the Galleria Mall in the early 1990s. I often worked with him as an art assistant and model, always had fun thinking up new ideas for inspiration. Being the creative individual that he was, he was inspired to do an old-fashioned style shoot. So, who should he approach for props, but Bud Gowan. The antique dealer was willing to help and generously loaned out a top hat, fountain pen and an old camera, complete with black draping and a wooden stand. Upon doing the photo shoot, I was in awe at the opportunity of being entrusted with such “historic” pieces. This was one of our most authentic photo shoots and a memory I cherish, as my brother passed away about two years later.
But before he died, my brother found one more opportunity to include Bud Gowan in his artwork. He created a piece of installation art for one of the first showings at the London Arts Council Gallery. The piece was called “Posterity” and featured prominent members of the business community in the shape of plaster cast hand prints and video footage of interviews done during the creation of the impressions. He drew parallels to the hand prints of movie stars and icons on Hollywood Boulevard. For his London Ontario version, he included Bud Gowan as one of those icons. The show featuring this install was well attended and particularly popular, drawing attention from the local media.
Naturally, after these memorable moments, to whom should I go to for an engagement gift for my fiancée, but the well-known antiques dealer, Bud Gowan? He showed me a few pieces on the main floor and then took me up to his office on the second, where he had some very special pieces from England. I was able to find an intricate pocket watch fob which Bud promptly cleaned, and he referred me to a jeweler so I could have it engraved. The fob was worn on our wedding day in Scotland, perhaps not all that far from where it originated.
When I heard that Bud Gowan was officially retiring and closing the antiques shop in 2012, I knew that I would have to go reminisce with him and wish him well. According to the family, many pieces had already been sold to collectors and dealers around the country. With the last few months being busy as they sorted through years of memories and five floors of furniture, paintings, clocks and London memorabilia, Bud, his son Paul, daughter-in-law Sue and the rest of his family were glad to have so many people visit the store and purchase items, which would hopefully lighten the packing job of the now defunct establishment. The building on Clarence was sold to new owners John and Nancy Fyfe-Millar, who plan to renovate and turn the majority of the building into apartments with the hope of preserving as much of the history as possible.
As he greeted old friends who came to visit during the sale, one can see that he enjoyed the thrill of the hunt in acquiring all the treasures in his shop; also, he deeply enjoyed being a salesperson and talking with people. “You really should buy something you know…”, he would tell them with that familiar twinkle in his eye, “last chance”.
When I first stopped in during these last days, he approached me and asked “What are you after?” and I said, “Just a visit and a piece of history”. I chatted with Bud for a spell, purchasing a few small items – a farthing, an old Humane Society pin and 1867 copy of Lord Lytton’s Gothic novel A Strange Story.
But I felt the occasion of Bud Gowan’s retirement warranted some additional celebration. I visited him on his final day of business, Wednesday, September 26, 2012, MisstoricalFiction style, in full Victorian-inspired costume, complete with top hat, to congratulate Bud and wish him well. What do you get a man who’s had five floors of collectibles for upward of a quarter century? I gave him a hardcover copy of Fragments of the Forks, the London and Middlesex Historical Society’s most recent and complete book outlining significant dates and events in London’s history. Why? Because a Mr. Bud Gowan himself is mentioned on page 261. How else do you thank such a good friend to downtown London than by showing him written history’s nod to the mark he made on our city and on our hearts. He spent many years collecting, preserving, and sharing London’s history along with encouraging interest in history overall. London’s Bud will not soon be forgotten.
So here’s to Bud Gowan. Congratulations on a monumental, iconic career and all the best for your retirement and whatever adventures come your way. Au revoir et bon chance.
More photos from the final days of Bud Gowan’s antique shop
I hunt it, find it, buy it, research it;
I wash it, haul it, paint it, fix it;
I pay taxes on it, load it
& I pay rent on it…
…How can I take any less?
– Bud Gowan, President, Bud Gowan Antiques, British Antique Importers
Posted on October 1, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged 387 Clarence street, Anthony Lutz, Bud Gowan, Bud Gowan antiques, Bud Gowan Formal Wear, Featherbone Company, Featherbone Corsets, Fragments from the Forks, Gwen Gowan, John Gowan, London Arts Council Gallery, London Ontario antiques shop, Reid blank book factory, Reid building London, Roxanne Lutz, Seven Dwarfs restaurant, Sue Gowan. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.