There’s a shop sitting on Government Street with gilded gold lettering and stylish colourful pea coats that hasn’t moved since it opened 156 years ago.
W&J Wilson’s Clothiers is the oldest operating business in Victoria to stay in its original location, and the oldest family-run clothing store in its original location in all of North America.
“It’s a little humbling because we’re a thing that isn’t around much anymore,” said owner Scott Thompson, whose family has run the shop for three generations after taking over from the Wilson family. “You want to do a good job, you want to live up to the legacy. It makes us listen a little more and change.”
In 1862 founder William Wilson immigrated from England with clothing in hopes of making good sales at the gold rush in Barkerville. Wilson put some clothing on consignment when he stopped in Victoria, but did not get paid for the assets and ended up seizing the store and opening a business of his own.
Since then, shop owners have imported clothing and accessories from Europe.
“We still strive for quality and fashion, some of the lines we’ve carried for 60 years,” Thompson said.
The men’s and women’s shop carries everything from smart casual to high-end fashion pieces and even makes customized suits. Since its inception, the brand has also opened two other shops, one in Sidney and one in Oak Bay.
Thompson said while the products are important, the key to the continued success is the staff.
“Some of our staff are 25-year people most are 10 or 15,” he said. “We try to run it as our extended family. My seamstress now runs my Oak Bay store and she’s known me since I was yea big.”
While the business has always been part of Thompson’s life, he didn’t always plan on following the family tradition.
“I have a biology degree, so no it wasn’t what I was planning on doing, but it worked,” he said. “There’s something about working for yourself, it’s been part of our family, it’s been part of our dinner table since I was a small thing. It’s helped me raise my family the right way.”
The last secret Thompson shared in running a successful business was to be willing to change.
“My grandfather would kill me if he saw me in the shop without a tie, but here I am,” Thompson laughed. “If you don’t adjust, you stagnate and go away.”
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