H.R. Lash is more than a high-quality, locally-owned and operated Sault Ste. Marie clothing store.
The 103-year-old John Street business is an historical landmark, its walls lined with fascinating Lash family photographs, the family itself with many true stories to tell.
One of those stories involves Sir Winston Churchill, the heroic British Prime Minister who guided the United Kingdom through the Second World War.
Business owner Herb Lash Jr.’s grandmother Isabelle Lash sent Churchill a birthday wish in 1957 (Churchill had by then served twice as Britain’s Prime Minister and had turned 83 on Nov. 30 of that year).
To the family’s surprise, Churchill replied to Isabelle’s birthday wish with a signed, handwritten note, reading ‘Thank you for your kind wishes on my birthday.’
The note is framed on one of the store’s walls, beneath a photo of Churchill with King George VI and his wife, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.
Another interesting Lash family fact involves Herb Jr.’s chasing and apprehending an individual who attempted to rob the business Feb. 7, 2016, and subsequently receiving a commendation from the Sault Ste. Marie Police Service in March 2017.
In a similar crime stopping incident, his father, Herb Lash Sr., received a commendation from Durham Regional Police for apprehending a purse-snatching thief while in Oshawa in 1981.
The H.R. Lash building, owned by the Lash family, has seen floods (old photos on the walls and the shop’s recently-created website show people canoeing past the store), and at one time, the building was rented out by founder H.R. Lash to barbers, bankers, pharmacists and apartment tenants before the the business evolved from a shoe store into a full-line clothing store.
Other photos show Herb Jr.’s great-grandmother Vivian feeding a bear, another with her fishing rod (the actual rod still hanging beside the photo), while other photos show Herb Sr.’s uncle Alan, a Second World War pilot.
The business was established by Herbert Rosevear Lash in 1914, then operated by his son William Herbert Lash beginning in 1947.
In turn, the store was bought and run by Herbert Alan Lash (Herb Sr.) beginning in 1979, then Herbert Johnathon Lash (Herb Jr.) beginning with the business’ 100th anniversary in 2014.
Herb Sr. is now semi-retired and loves to play golf in the summer months, still lending a hand in the store on a part-time basis.
With more than a few retail giants having gone out of business in recent years, what’s the secret to H.R. Lash’s longevity?
Part of the answer is they’ve adapted to online shopping, to run in tandem with their conventional shop.
“If you don’t change with the times you fade out, especially considering we’ve been in the same location for over 100 years,” Herb Jr. told SooToday after we dropped by to visit with a pair of SooToday coffee mugs.
“We’re not in the malls or in the high traffic areas, you have to adapt to survive, so having the website out there reminds people we’re still around and in business.”
“I built a website for the store (after taking over the business in 2014).”
From there, Herb Jr. has transformed it into an e-commerce site.
“It’s still not quite finished, but a lot of our inventory is online. We ship across Canada and into the States. That just launched in May of this year.”
“It’s a lot of work, taking the photographs, stocking the inventory, barcoding and things like that, but at least we have a little bit more of an online presence so that people can pre-shop.”
The site has helped a lot, especially with out-of-town shoppers, Herb said.
But the store’s longevity, said the business owner, is due to more than technology.
“The biggest thing is our customer service.”
“With the knowledge we have, we can direct people to what they’re trying to get into. We want to establish a good relationship and rapport with everyone so they don’t feel buyer’s remorse when they leave. We want them to know we’ll look after them.”
H.R. Lash also still sells ‘old school’ items you can’t seem to find anywhere else these days.
Among those items are men’s overshoes for the winter months, caps and fedoras.
Herb Jr. said he enjoyed flipping burgers with friends and working at a golf course before taking over the clothing store.
“I like the customer service aspect here.”
Herb Jr. spoke highly of his staff and ongoing working relationship with Orlando Perri, the store’s tailor.
“He’s been an amazing man and been a lot of help to us.”