Look Good, Feel Good With Aubé Frères Fine Apparel
CORNWALL, ON – Just a couple of blocks up from the St. Lawrence River, in the midst of Cornwall’s eclectic downtown shopping area, sits a modest clothing store by the name of Aubé Frères Fine Gentlemen's and Ladies' Apparel. Yet walk in the store and you will quickly realize the selection is anything but modest – Aubé Frères offers a wide selection of top quality men’s and ladies clothing that you would expect to find in stores in New York, Montreal and London.
“Our motto for the past 40 years has been that ‘looking good never goes out of style’,” says store owner Conrad “Conny” Aube. “Over time brand names move in and out of favour with the public, but the concept of a well made, well-fitting shirt still resonates with people.”
The attractive and well-appointed store carries a full line of men’s clothing anchored by familiar names like Nautica and Bugatti, while the ladies section is led by clothing from the Spanner - Inspired Style company. Conny ensures that a wide range of clothing styles are available, from casual, to sportswear, to more formal business attire.
“Men’s clothing has undergone a significant change – suits are mostly for special occasions,” says Conny. “We offer a great variety of sports shirts and casual pants... it is similar to the style of clothing we carried when we first opened in 1972.”
In 1971, Conny found himself with a decision to make. He was playing drums in the great Lionel Hampton’s jazz band in New York City, and touring with the jazz legend. Yet he also had a 2 year old daughter back home in Cornwall, and the idea of moving his young family to New York didn’t really appeal to him.
He decided to move back to Cornwall and began to look for a job. He had some experience managing and buying for a retail store, and after meeting Larry Lovell, the new owner of Cornwall clothing manufacturer Prince Clothing, the idea of opening his own store came to him.
He secured a loan of $5K from his father, and his brother Carm also come aboard with another $5K. With an initial supply of suits, jackets, pants and overcoats, he and his brother opened the store on March 25, 1972 at 116 Pitt Street.
“We had a lot of help in those early days,” recalls Conny. “Mr. Lovell basically provided his goods on consignment, and each Monday we would tally up what we sold, and then pay Prince Clothing for those items.”
The Aubé brothers quickly expanded their product line to include BVD shirts, sweaters from Highland Knitting and Abbey Ties - to name a few. In 1974 they began selling clothing by the famous Coppley Noyes & Randall company (Cambridge Clothes).
“It was a step up from our normal line of merchandise - higher quality, higher priced,” recalls Conny. “Even though Coppley was a well established name, the company liked to support small, independent clothing shops.”
Things went very well for the next several years until 1980, when soaring interest rates threatened many small retailers across Canada. The Aubé brothers had just finished a major renovation of the store and were carrying a $90,000 loan - locked in at a 18.5% interest rate.
“It wasn’t just us – our suppliers and clothing manufacturers were also having trouble with their finances.”
In 1981, a major supplier told the brothers that they would only continue to support the store if one of the brothers left – the business was just not big enough to support both.
“It was a very, very difficult decision to make, yet it was either split up or fold the business into bankruptcy,” says Conny. “My brother and I had always been close – I was not only losing a business partner, but someone I enjoyed spending my days with.”
Ultimately, Carm left and Conny continued on – doing what he needed to do to keep the business afloat. This included getting up at 5:30 on Sunday mornings and travelling to Ottawa to sell clothes at the Stittsville Flea Market – quite literally from the backseat of his car. The extra sales helped keep the company afloat while Canada’s economy righted itself.
In 1984, Conny brought in the Polo clothing line, and things took off for the store.
“Polo was wildly popular –and huge for us. “
Over the years, he would bring in other key names, like Hugo Boss, expand into ladies wear and weather more recessions. He would emerge as a champion of Cornwall downtown, and a well respected business leader.
“You have to adapt to survive – and not be afraid to stand by your convictions.”
In April of 2001, Conny was involved in a automobile accident that left him in the hospital for 10 weeks. Unsure of his ability to continue working, he closed the store for 3 months.
“It was a difficult time, but I was encouraged by the positive energy of people in the community,” Conny says. “Customers were asking if I would re-open and as my strength returned, so did my passion for business.”
With the help of family and friends, Conny re-opened Aubé Frères in September 2001. The store remains very popular with local residents and visitors. Conny still keeps his hand in music, playing on a regular basis with his good friend Moe Lemieux and other jazz musicians.
He lives above the store in an apartment he built in 1985, and remains very passionate about Cornwall and his fellow downtown businesses.
“My goal is to help my customers look good – and that means quality clothing at a good price.”
You can reach Aubé Frères Fine Gentlemen's and Ladies' Apparel at 116 Pitt Street in Downtown Cornwall, by phone at (613) 932-6000 or online at: