When Al Fontaine rolled into town in his $300 car nearly 15 years ago he had little but the clothes on his back and some pocket money.
“Everyone kept saying to me, ‘what the hell are you doing here, there’s no work here,’” he recalled. “I did everything and anything I could do. I think a lot of it boils down to taking pride in your work, no matter what it is.”
Al certainly didn’t have easy start in life. His dad took off when he was a baby and his mother passed away when he was six. He bounced around from place to place, living with aunts and uncles until he was out on his own.
He had been living in Kelowna before taking off down to the Valley, and his first job was at the Valley Inn where he met his wife Sherri. Within two weeks of dating they were engaged. They married nine months later in her parents’ backyard.
Sherri, who was born and raised in Bella Coola, was a bookkeeper by trade for several small businesses, as well as managing Bee Line’s local office and running the Homestead Motel.
Al started working at Tru Hardware in 2007 and five years ago he conquered his battle with alcohol when he quit cold turkey. It was a major life-changer. “That was it, I was done,” he said. “I wanted to keep my family together and since then everything’s improved, even my music!”
When the former owner asked him if he was interested in purchasing the store, Al went home and asked Sherri what she thought.
“For me it was a no-brainer,” she explains. “I knew that with my office experience and Al’s hardware experience we could do it. However, I am still amazed at how much work it is!”
The couple hasn’t slowed down since the purchase, often working 14-hour days and since the recent break and enters, living practically onsite. “It’s a lot of work but I love it,” said Al. “It’s nice working with my wife because we can give each other breaks when we need it.”
They have also been learning each other strengths in addition to learning about the many different aspects to the business they now own. “I had no knowledge of hardware and Al had no office experience,” said Sherri. “But we are having a good time.”
They are now working hard to put their own stamp on the business, ordering new items and doing their best to provide whatever they can. Despite their small size, they are also keen to price match, and for what the store may lack for in size it certainly seems to make up for in heart. The staff is friendly and a good customer service is foremost.
“I never stop thinking about the store,” said Al. “We aren’t a big store but we are doing our best to make sure people don’t have to go out of town. If we can get it, we’ll order it.”