Woolrich era ends in Knowlton

An era ends with the closing of the Woolrich store in Knowlton after 30 years.

As these words are written, manager Chantal Cloutier and staff are selling what is left of their inventory at the Lakeside location prior to shuttering the building in the last week of March.

“It had nothing to do with our performance, and nothing to do with Knowlton,” Cloutier said recently. “We were doing well, with a loyal group of fine customers. It was a corporate decision out of headquarters in the U.S. It is very sad.”

Rumours of Woolrich’s demise have circulated for years. How could the giant clothing and lifestyle retailer have its only Canadian stand-alone shop in a tiny town in the Eastern Townships? But the Woolrich brand prospered here, with many making annual pilgrimages to shop for the company’s iconic flannel shirts, buffalo print jackets, blankets and sweaters. And locals swarmed to semi-annual warehouse sales, where the previous year’s surplus stock sold at seriously deep discounts.

Woolrich was a Knowlton landmark and its closing is a blow to the struggling retail environment here. Cloutier points to the parent company’s 2016 merger with the Italian clothier WP Lavori and a decision to take the company in a more contemporary direction. The recent launch of the upmarket, youth-oriented John Rich line suggests she’s right. A swank Woolrich branch recently opened in Toronto, with two more stand-alone shops planned for Montreal and Vancouver.

It’s a long way from the store that opened in its original Mill Pond location in 1988, managed for the next 25 years by Debbie Hornig. “The company imagined an “image” store and the Eastern Townships was an ideal location for the rugged, outdoor brand,” Hornig recalled. “Back then, Knowlton was unique with its New England architecture and an enlightened municipal store policy that allowed us to stay open on Sunday.”

The store thrived, with bus loads of tourists snarling traffic for a taste of destination shopping at stores like LL Brome, Polo Ralph Lauren, and Woolrich. All are memories now.

“I hope the old line of quality, traditional clothing hangs in there,” said Hornig. “It’s sad that it’s closing but it’s a tough time for retail generally. The internet has radically altered the landscape.”