A long-time family-owned business on Vancouver Island will be shutting down later this year after nearly 90 years in business.
Capital Iron will close its flagship location on Store Street in downtown Victoria and its Langford location on Dec. 17, resulting in 45 employees losing their job.
Mike Black, president and owner of Capital Iron, said employees were notified yesterday and called it the hardest decision of his life.
“It is very, very sad to see that happen,” he told CHEK News. “We’ve been in business here in Victoria for 88 years and we’ve become a part of the fabric of the community. I won’t use the term end of an era, but in some ways, it is.”
It wasn’t one single reason that lead to Capital Iron’s closure, but a multitude of factors such as supply chain issues, inflation, and climbing costs.
“It starts to add up,” he said. “Everything has gone up in costs. The cost in freight, our property taxes, our business insurance, the employer health tax that the province downloaded and then we have to start paying people more. It just keeps adding up.”
The shift to online shopping, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic, was also a significant factor, said Black.
“We weren’t set up for [online shopping] because we always relied on selling to people and the experience and being in the store,” he said. “There was a lot of local online purchasing that was not from local stores.”
Capital Iron was founded by Black’s wife’s grandfather, Morris L. Greene, in 1934 as a scrap metal business called Capital Iron & Metal Ltd that operated out of the current Store Street location — one of the oldest buildings in Victoria.
“They bought old ships and anything they could scrap and sell it for pieces or cash,” explained Black.
During the 1950s, Capital Iron shifted from scrap metal to selling military surplus equipment, becoming more of a general and outdoors store.
“They had the old, I call them ‘cripplers,’ running shoes that the military had and somebody said ‘why don’t you sell socks?’ so they added socks,” said Black.
Eventually, Capital Iron became what it is today, selling everything from housewares, hardware, patio furniture and barbecues to hot tubs, fireplaces, camping gear and home decorations.
“When I started, there were only two places in town you bought paint and that was Capital Iron or Lumberworld and that was it. We used to hundreds of thousands of dollars of fabric every year when people were sewing their clothes,” said Black, who joined the company more than three decades ago.
In May 2020, Reliance Properties purchased the property on Store Street where Capital Iron is located as well as the land between Discovery Street and Chatham Street, spanning from the waterfront all the way to Government Street.
The Vancouver-based company has plans to redevelop the entire area with retail, commercial, arts and cultural facilities, high-tech, office, assembly, studio, small-scale commercial agriculture, parks and open space.
Three heritage properties, which include the building where Capital Iron is located, would remain but all other existing buildings would be demolished. Three new buildings — a 10-storey, a 13-storey, and a 17-storey — are also planned for the area, according to plans submitted to the City of Victoria.
Bruce Williams, chief executive officer of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, said it’s a “shame” that Capital Iron is closing.
“It’s always really sad to see an established longtime business like Capital Iron make a decision like this, which they have to do, but at the same time, that part of town downtown is going through a huge period of transformation,” he said.
Capital Iron’s closure will have an impact on the business community in Victoria, but what exactly that is isn’t clear yet, said Williams. He said anytime a longtime business like Capital Iron shuts down, it is usually a wake-up call for other businesses in the area.
“It probably gets [business owners] into a frame of mind about how they can be more resilient, the fact that they have opportunities to grow and be more engaged with what they do every day,” he said. “So, this might be a bit of a shot across the bow for some people, but I think it’s a wake-up call at the same time.”
Williams said the closure of Capital Iron is also a stark reminder that buying from major online retailers impacts small local businesses.
“If you are purchasing something online from a company that is not a local company, you’re doing that really at the expense of a local company like Capital Iron. If people had decided to make purchases of items that they could have found at Capital Iron, but didn’t get them there,” he said.
Since the news of Capital Iron’s forthcoming closure broke, Black said he’s received countless e-mails of support from the community.
“I’ve had people e-mailing me asking me if any of my staff want to get jobs,” he said. “The outpouring of support has been great.”
At the end of the day, Black said he wants to thank all the current and past employees of Capital Iron.
“That’s the heartbeat of the business,” he said. “No matter what my family did, the staff are what drove it.”
“We loved being in this area. We want to thank the people who supported us over the year. We are very thankful for everything.”