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Cap guns and whoopee cushions: Ray Swayze celebrates 30 years in downtown Markdale

Ray Swayze celebrates 30 years in downtown Markdale


In 2018, The Bargain Centre in Markdale will celebrate its 30th anniversary under Ray Swayze’s ownership.

“I know I complain a lot, but that’s just my shtick,” explained Swayze. In reality, he holds deep affection for his community. “I’ve always enjoyed meeting and greeting customers”, he said.

“This town owes me nothing. I’ve enjoyed so many benefits from this business. I’m lucky. I’m grateful to have been here at the right time and can reflect fondly on the last 30 years,” he added.

It was in June of 1988 that Swayze bought The Bargain Centre from its previous owner, Tom Perry. That decision changed the course of his life, turning him from part-time resident on his father’s local hobby farm to devoted small-town citizen and Main Street entrepreneur.

In the beginning, the store occupied space across the road from its current location. “We sold furniture and appliances,” said Swayze. “I’d like to say I had some kind of big business plan but the truth is I didn’t think too much about it. My philosophy has always just been to keep prices low.”

While still selling many other things, the furniture and appliance business ended when larger retailers started advertising their “don’t-pay-until-never” events and the humble small town discount store couldn’t keep up with the incentives of deep-pocket chains.

The Bargain Centre has reinvented itself over the years, selling everything from bed and bath products, wicker and furniture to toys, cards, cap guns and whoopee cushions. “In fact, I must hold the town record for the most whoopee cushions ever sold,” Swayze jokes. But in reality, the core products on the store’s shelves haven’t changed all that much.

The store remains filled with a wide selection of gifts, greeting cards, toys, pet supplies, candy and convenience items, all available at The Bargain Centre’s notoriously low prices.

The Bargain Centre was a Sears catalogue outlet for 20 years, ending its relationship with the Canadian retailer in 2011. “I could see they were starting to lose touch with their customers,” said Swayze. “I didn’t think they’d last much longer. But they did, lasting another seven years.” Coincidentally, Sears Canada finally ended its operations this year.

As Swayze reminisced about the people he has served, he noted a few celebrities have been seen shopping at The Bargain Centre including TV personalities Ann Rohmer and Dini Petty. But according to Ray, the most famous person he’s ever met in the store was Canadian folk musician, Valdy who came into The Bargain Centre last summer.

Looking at what the future will hold doesn’t interest Swayze too much. He seems to live in the moment. Given the store’s longevity and his ability to weather any storm, that may just be the best way to look at things. At 52, Swayze mused he may be reaching the twilight of this career but also seemed slightly energized by recent talk of a Markdale revitalization. “Whatever happens, happens,” he concluded.

We hope Ray and The Bargain Centre continue to anchor downtown Markdale for many years to come. Drop in to wish him a happy anniversary.


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