By Chelsea Strik
Eighty-two-year old Gerry Bongard’s passion for helping people has set him apart from owners of other sports and leisure shops.
Bongard originally worked on the railroad in the storage department, but took advantage of an opportunity to buy Stephen Licence Bicycles and Hobbies in Belleville when the business was put up for sale in 1957.
“I chose it because I didn’t think railroading was going to be a lifetime career, although it was work. This looked like a challenge. I like dealing with people… But this way you get to help all kinds of people enjoy their way of life and what they want to do.”
The store is located in downtown Belleville at 288 Front St. Merchandise sold in the shop includes bike and sporting equipment, clothing, children’s toys, model vehicles and other hobby paraphernalia. Hobby enthusiasts can buy sporting equipment and knick-knacks to support their hobby. Skate sharpening is also available.
Bongard looks at his business as a way to help people. He rarely misses an opportunity to make someone’s life just a little better by helping them with their hobby.
“It’s a privilege actually, to supply product to people that will enhance their enjoyment. I look forward to that.”
Working closely with Bongard for the last 30 years, his son Kevin Bongard knows it is his father’s willingness to help that makes him such a great business owner.
“I’ve never really worked with other business owners, but I think it’s his patience, his understanding that makes him unique in the business.
“He’s taught me a lot about this profession. It really comes down to wanting to help the public. This is our goal. He’s instilled in me that we’re here to make everybody’s experience here, as well as with their leisure activities, to be enjoyable.”
Stephen Licence, who named the business after himself, originally founded the store in 1918. When he passed away in 1952, a longtime employee bought the business and then sold it to Bongard five years later.
That same employee actually ended up coming back to the store and working for Bongard.
“That gentleman, incidentally, wanted to take a break. When you’re in retail, you don’t get many breaks. He thought he had plenty to do for the rest of his life, but he ended up coming back to the store and working for me for 13 years.”
A personal touch helps the Stephen Licence store thrive today.
“When I work in a store, I like to approach the customer. There’s no one that gets in and out of the store without me contacting them. I like to help them,” says Bongard.
Kevin said his father originally wanted to be a doctor, and feels that same mentality helps him in the retail business.
“His original goal in life was to be a doctor, and that didn’t go through. But I think he brings that into the retail world, in that he tries to help and guide people. I’ve learned that from him.”
Bongard’s life consists mainly of his passion for the store. However, he finds spare time to sing at Christ Church Anglican.
“My other hobby is being a vocalist in the church choir, and I’ve been doing that since I was 10 years old, and I’m still going. There’s quite an extensive amount of soul work to it. I go to the church across the footbridge. I’ve been there since I was 10 and I’m still there.”
Bongard plans to continue to work at Stephen Licence.
“I plan to work here for as long as I can, until I’m done.”
After he retires, Kevin will officially take over the business.