Now and Then: Taking a Main Street walk, circa 1955

Let’s take a mid-50s memory ramble around the Main Street I knew as a child and teenager growing up in Flin Flon. How about a ramble to the corner of Main and Second Avenue around 1955?

The Royal Bank, of course, was always on that corner and crossing Second Avenue, you’d find some of the long-time business establishment such as - in order - Frank Schieder’s Men’s Wear, one of Flin Flon’s three exclusively men’s apparel stores, Sam Hankin’s Furniture Store and then Barnie Holmes’ (later Jack Zimmermans’s) Barber Shop.

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Now let’s introduce a new Flin Flon phenomenon known as Foto-Music Supplies, which arrived on the scene to take up a vacated store next to Barnie’s. Foto-Music was new and different in several forms. The owners were not only new to Flin Flon, but were relatively new to Canada as they had only recently immigrated from Germany. One must be conscious of the fact that this was less than 10 years after the end of the Second World War. There were still some bad feelings towards German immigrants – especially those men who were veterans of the German armed forces during the war. Nevertheless, brothers John and George Nikel and Gunter Henning carried on and set up shop. They began their retail phenomenon by focusing on selling the newly created long play records and the new combination HiFi and stereo radio/record players. They also had a counter featuring the latest 35 millimetre cameras which were much superior to the ubiquitous Kodak Brownie camera of the day.

Business success, they say, is based on three factors: location, location and location. Flin Flon certainly checked off all three boxes as the Canadian economy was healthy, the mine was running full bore and people finally had shed themselves of the need to find two nickels to rub together.

The recent opening of Highway 10 had created a massive demand for new vehicles. People were casting off worn-out furniture, appliances and clothing. There was a burgeoning population of adolescents, newly entitled teenagers and young adults who were fast becoming part of the new consumer society. Business was booming!

The Foto-Music boys knew that Flin Flon was a gold mine in more ways than one and it wasn’t long before their store was jammed full of bins of the latest 45 RPM hit records and long play records. A full selection of what were called HIFi (and later stereo) combination radio-record player cabinet sets filled the display areas. Foto-Music had found its niche!

The ‘50s were also a time when retail purchasing practices were changing. Easy-term time payments were then a relatively new phenomenon in Canada. Prior to the ‘50s, people either paid in cash, put it on credit and paid at the end of the month - or did without.

Foto-Music entered the market by creating hard-hitting advertising campaigns promoting “easy term payments”. They were the first to employ what is called saturation advertising on CFAR - that is, they would broadcast a consistent message multiple times over a short period of time to tie in with paydays at the mine. The effect of this technique was not unlike a good thunderstorm, especially with CFAR being the only station people could tune in to. Everybody “got” the message. Business boomed in response to the radio ads that consistently bellowed “Two-fifty a week, two-fifty a week. You can own a brand new (whatever) from Foto-Music for only ‘two fifty a week!’”.

This is, of course, $2.50 a week, which amounted to $10 dollars a month but no one thought of that total. It was the ‘two-fifty’ that caught the consumer.

While John, George and Gunter enjoyed a successful business venture during their years in Flin Flon, they also added significantly to the city’s quality of life through their personal involvement in many community activities including both the Flin Flon Canoe Club and Ski Club.

And so goes this ramble along a tiny bit of Main Street. No doubt, there are a million memories stirred and scores of stories to be told.

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