Bwana Johns to close Haliburton location

By Elizabeth Bate

Known as purveyors of bright and breezy fashions and accessories imported from the far reaches of the globe Bwana Johns’ Haliburton location will be closing this Thanksgiving after 30 years.

The Minden location dubbed the world headquarters will remain open seasonally.

Owners Stephanie and Stephen Hartwick say as retail in Haliburton has been declining in the last few years the location has become too costly in the off-season.

“It was getting too expensive to carry it over the winter. And we own a building a commercial building in Minden where we’ve had a store for the last five years. So we’re going to downsize the business and consolidate it there and just run it seasonally from that location rather than trying to carry anything through the winter” Stephen said.

Downsizing the operation wasn’t solely an economic decision say the Hartwicks.

“We’re actually retirement age so we’re downsizing on our way to getting out of the business” Stephen said.

Although the revenue will go down he suspects profits might increase for the store in Minden and the online operation. Both Stephen and Stephanie said they were surprised there was no interest when the business was listed for sale.

“It’s doing very well. Both stores are doing OK it’s just carrying through the winter has been a problem and the summers haven’t been as strong as they were say three or four years ago. So that makes a big difference but that’s really only part of the reason we’re downsizing” Stephen said.

The couple still has plenty to keep themselves busy travelling to southeast Asia in the winters to buy items for the store and helping to manage a farm they are using to expand their coffee business.

The buying for Bwana Johns is based in Thailand but the store also buys from Bali India and Nepal a region hit by an earthquake

The pair is excited to get back to the region in December to help build up the areas affected by the disaster.

“It’s been devastating for them so we’re pretty eager to get back” he said. “Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world and their economy was shrinking and that was pre-earthquake. We have several friends who do business there and you know it’s going to be important that myself and those people get back there and start buying and working with people again. Certainly the aid is important but it’s the old story of teaching people to fish.”

Stephanie says fabric makers in Nepal get wool from Australia and New Zealand to make high quality sweaters hats rugs and other goods. Continuing to bring in products from the region is high on their priority list.

While the pair is traversing the globe looking for more products more business opportunities or just enjoying the sites the day-to-day operation of the store is handled by manager Janice Jowett and her two daughters Sarah and Lindsay. Jowett will continue her role in the Minden location.

If the store reaches a consolidated size before Thanksgiving they will begin operating solely out of the Minden location. For now the Haliburton location is offering everything at a reduced price to facilitate the process.

“Fifty per cent off everything in the store and that will run until the inventory is small enough to fit in one store” said Stephen.