Killaloe – It’s a tradition many in the Valley are loath to forgo and when the annual tent sale at Afelskie Shoes opened on Friday morning the streets of the village were packed and orderly shoppers -- this year wearing masks -- were looking at shoes, coats, boots and more.
“This has been going on since the mid-1970s,” owner Shaun Afelskie noted on Friday morning as he stood outside the tents. “Someone was just asking me when we started doing this and it is around four decades now.”
While COVID has put the kibosh on a lot of annual traditions, not this one. The tent sale at Afelskie’s was held to the delight of customers who came from not only the immediate area but many who make plans to not miss the chance of buying a great pair of boots or other items at a significant discount. It also coincides well with the end of summer and the start of a new school year and there are items for all ages. Many families have been coming for generations and have been served by generations of the Afelskie family.
“There are faces you see year after year,” he noted.
As well, there are those whose absence is particularly felt each year, he added. Perhaps there has been a death or illness because otherwise they would not have missed the annual bargain hunter’s dream. Some people still speak of going “to Benny’s” for the sale. They are referring to Shaun’s late father, Benny Afelskie, who was closely associated with the harness and shoe shop in the village when he took it over from his uncle. Of course, Benny had the gift of the gab to the delight of his customers and would have loved to see the village bustling with the sale on Friday and Saturday.
Afelskie’s is still a family business and never more so than the annual tent sale which Shaun noted would not be possible without his extended family helping.
“My family is absolutely exceptional and they do great work getting this ready,” he said.
The tents are up early in the week and the merchandise is put out on Thursday with the final displays prepared early Friday morning. Shaun noted he thought he would be the first one there on Friday when he arrived with his son-in-law at 6 o’clock, but some of his family were already there, hard at work.
“Without family help we would not be able to do this,” he said.
Although the sale is advertised as Friday and Saturday, there are some extra-early birds who were looking at the displays on Thursday to do some shopping. And there was lots of selection.
“This is a combo of both stores (Barry’s Bay and Killaloe),” Shaun said. “It is end-of-line and discontinued stuff. It is last season’s stuff.”
One of the things which makes Afelskie’s so popular is the quality of merchandise while still keeping the prices reasonable. Shaun noted both he and his staff look for the top quality they can find and see what is available to them.
“And the wholesalers suggest different thing to us to upgrade,” she said.
Chatting with customers at the tent sale, he said some people like to spend their time browsing at the selection, while others have a goal and are “quick in and out” with their bargains.
Krista Hoffman of Golden Lake was there with her sons, Silas, 12 and Grady, 10. They never miss the sale, she said. For the growing boys it is back-to-school shopping and a tad more normalcy in this age of COVID.
“We were very excited to get here and enjoy something that is happening,” she added.
Carolyn Malboeuf is a cottager on Golden Lake who has a home in Ottawa and she also never misses the tent sale.
“I try to come every year,” she said. “I used to always enjoy chatting with Benny. My mom has been coming here for 50 years.”
For cousins Hollie and Kendra Afelskie, it is all about the family and they were working at the sale and helping customers. Hollie is Shaun’s daughter and Kendra is brother Chuck’s daughter. Benny was their grandfather.
“We love the tradition of the sale,” Kendra said. “It is like a mini family reunion.”
“It’s nice to get-together for the sale,” agreed Hollie.
They are both proud of the Afelskie name and their family reputation, as well as the reputation of the store.
“I live in Ottawa and when I say Afelskie people ask about Benny’s in Killaloe,” she said. “I’m proud of our family and his legacy. It is so well known.”
Hollie said it is fun to see how excited and happy people are to come to the sale and see all the items. As well, both cousins admit they are not just workers at the annual event but shoppers too.
“As we put out the stuff, I’m like, ‘I like that, I like that, I like that’,” she laughed.
Kendra said she tells herself if that special something is there at the end of the day, she will pick it up.
Also learning the Afelskie tradition early was three-year-old Jimmy Irish Suckow, who was happy to be with his grandpa Shaun at the tent and seemed unphased by all the commotion.
It has been a different year for Afelskie’s in Killaloe. Last year the decision was made to close for the winter with a planned re-opening in the spring, but the Ontario government restrictions delayed the re-opening. This year the plan is to close the Killaloe location at the end of September and re-open in April 2022. Meanwhile, the Barry’s Bay location will remain open.
“We hope to see people in Barry’s Bay,” Shaun said.
There is lots of fall and winter gear in stock at Afelskie’s in Barry’s Bay, he remarked.
Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader