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After 129 years, Slocum & Ferris in Saint John City Market to close

Corey Dugas, owner of Slocum & Ferris, said the final day of operation for the iconic City Market eatery will be Saturday. (Julia Wright/CBCNotes  - image credit)
Corey Dugas, owner of Slocum & Ferris, said the final day of operation for the iconic City Market eatery will be Saturday. (Julia Wright/CBCNotes - image credit)

After almost 130 years in the Saint John City Market, Slocum & Ferris will close Saturday with no plans to reopen.

Owner Corey Dugas, purchased the iconic eatery — known for its down-home food, old-school wooden signage and local goods like Pal-O-Mine bars, dulse, saltwater taffy, and maple syrup — with Joanna Killen in 2021.

"I gave it everything I have to this business," said Dugas, who has been sole owner since September 2022.

People don't come uptown like they did before the pandemic, he said. "There's no foot traffic. Other than cruise ship season, we don't see the people anymore."

Slocum and Ferris, located on the south side of the market, relies on foot traffic that 'just isn't coming back' after COVID, Dugas said.
Slocum and Ferris, located on the south side of the market, relies on foot traffic that 'just isn't coming back' after COVID, Dugas said.

Slocum & Ferris, located on the south side of the market, relies on foot traffic that 'just isn't coming back' after COVID, Dugas says. (Julia Wright/CBC)

"It's just — it's not coming back."

It's a disappointing conclusion to his early dreams for the business.

"I've come here since I was a kid and loved the food, loved the owners, and bought it thinking I was going to be the next owner for the next 30 years."

A vintage sign advertising fresh dulse - a local product which, like Slocum and Ferris, has fallen on difficult times in recent years.
A vintage sign advertising fresh dulse - a local product which, like Slocum and Ferris, has fallen on difficult times in recent years.

A vintage sign advertising fresh dulse, a local product which, like Slocum & Ferris, has fallen on difficult times in recent years. (Julia Wright/CBC )

Since 1895

Slocum & Ferris is one of the longest-running businesses in Canada's oldest continuing farmers' market, a national historic site that is owned by the City of Saint John. It was founded in 1895 by Loyalists George W. Slocum and John D. Ferris, who left Queens County to become produce merchants in the city.

Portraits of the eatery's namesakes, George W. Slocum and John D. Ferris, are displayed in the upstairs prep area of the restaurant.
Portraits of the eatery's namesakes, George W. Slocum and John D. Ferris, are displayed in the upstairs prep area of the restaurant.

Portraits of the eatery's namesakes, George W. Slocum and John D. Ferris, are displayed in the upstairs prep area of the restaurant. (Julia Wright/CBC)

By the mid-1900s, the business had evolved into a small grocery store selling canned goods, spices, and "fancy groceries" to supplement the fishmongers, butchers and greengrocers who dominated the market of the day. The stall also began to sell dulse, the deep-purple dried seaweed for which Grand Manan is famous worldwide.

In 1989, the business was purchased by longtime owners Dave and Sherrie Forestell, who ran it for 32 years until 2021.

Dulse, although a troubled industry in recent years, remained a popular item at Slocum & Ferris, forming the basis of Forestell's famous DLT, or dulse, lettuce and tomato sandwich. 

A famous DLT à la former Slocum & Ferris owner Dave Forestell, served up with mayo, coleslaw, and crinkle-cut chips.
A famous DLT à la former Slocum & Ferris owner Dave Forestell, served up with mayo, coleslaw, and crinkle-cut chips.

A famous DLT à la former Slocum & Ferris owner Dave Forestell, served up with mayo, coleslaw, and crinkle-cut chips. (Submitted by Dave Forestell)

Mike Sampel started working at Slocum & Ferris a quarter-century ago in the summer of 1999, making sandwiches, slinging dulse, cooking bacon and lugging boxes up and down the steep back stairs.

He said it's hard to process the close of his 25-year career at the restaurant.

"You're in a place 40 hours a week, five days a week, month after month — you get used to the place. The building kind of gets a hold on you."

Mike Sampel has worked at Slocum and Ferris for 25 years under two different owners. He said he's hoping to find a job somewhere else in the market after he's laid off, along with fellow employee Blair Brophy, on Saturday.
Mike Sampel has worked at Slocum and Ferris for 25 years under two different owners. He said he's hoping to find a job somewhere else in the market after he's laid off, along with fellow employee Blair Brophy, on Saturday.

Mike Sampel has worked at Slocum & Ferris for 25 years under two different owners. He said he's hoping to find a job somewhere else in the market after he's laid off on Saturday, along with fellow employee Blair Brophy. (Julia Wright/CBC)

Sampel, who will be laid off on Saturday along with fellow employee Blair Brophy, said he hopes his next job won't take him too far.

"Market people tend to stay in the market," he said. "So there might be some options for me here."

While the lunch counter is closing, the Slocum name, at least, lives on in another local New Brunswick business.

Reg Slocum, the grandson of G.W. Slocum, still runs Slocum Farm Fresh Produce in Arcadia, selling lettuce, corn and other fresh produce on Route 105 in Waterborough.

"I was happy to have the name continue in the market," said Slocum.

The farm stand in Waterborough continues to be run by generations of Slocums in Arcadia.
The farm stand in Waterborough continues to be run by generations of Slocums in Arcadia.

The farm stand in Waterborough continues to be run by generations of Slocums in Arcadia. (Submitted by Reg Slocum)

Changes coming — but not fast enough for some

Other well-known market businesses have also closed in recent years, among them established eateries such as Sisters Italian Foods and Sagrati's sandwich counter.

"It's been really, really tough here," said Gill Nadeau, who runs Uncorked Tours at the foot of the market. "There are all kinds of issues that come into play when you're dealing with a city property."

But there are also some "really great benefits: it's a beautiful historic space that is so important in the hearts of so many Saint Johners."

Gill Nadeau, who runs Uncorked Tours at the foot of the market, was at Slocum & Ferris Friday morning getting a maple breakfast bagel. She said the past three years in the Market haven't been easy, but she's hoping things will turn a corner in the summer.
Gill Nadeau, who runs Uncorked Tours at the foot of the market, was at Slocum & Ferris Friday morning getting a maple breakfast bagel. She said the past three years in the Market haven't been easy, but she's hoping things will turn a corner in the summer.

Gill Nadeau, who runs Uncorked Tours at the foot of the market, was at Slocum and Ferris on Friday morning getting a maple breakfast bagel. She says the past three years in the Market haven't been easy, but she's hoping things will turn a corner in the summer. (Julia Wright/CBC)

Last summer, a new strategic plan for the market was approved by council that included 65 initiatives to revitalize the market: among them, more seating, removing the centre aisle and offering space for pop-up vendors.

"Those changes are coming down the line, but it takes time to change the direction of something as big as this," Nadeau said.

It's not happening fast enough to help business owners like Dugas. While he declined to discuss exactly what he pays in rent, he said it's "high, like everything is high right now" — and that deserves to be examined if the city wants its small businesses to thrive.

He suggests looking at "different approaches: base plus percentage of sales, different ways to rent."

City Market manager Andrew MacDonald was not available for comment on Friday.

Saturday, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., will be the final day of operation for Slocum & Ferris.

"I'd love to see everybody come out," Dugas said. "So I can say thank you — and you can say goodbye."

Dugas chatting to a customer on Friday morning, one day before the long-running gbusiness is set to close.
Dugas chatting to a customer on Friday morning, one day before the long-running gbusiness is set to close.

Dugas chats to a customer on Friday morning, one day before the long-running business was set to close. (Julia Wright/CBC)