Eganville – Ron Nelson lived and breathed retail and was most happy running his stores in Eganville, starting out in 1992 when he and his late wife, Doris, purchased Strickland’s Supermarket, and later opened Eganville’s Ultimate Discount Store, now known as Papa Ron’s.
He was an extremely successful businessman and changed the face of retailing in the local community by staying open longer hours to better serve the public. He knew the business and was highly respected in the grocery industry.
Mr. Nelson passed away Sunday night at his residence in Eganville after a brief battle with cancer. He was 79.
The Nelsons moved to Eganville in the fall of 1992 when they purchased Strickland’s Supermarket from Henry and Lillian Strickland. Located on Foymount Road, about a mile west of the village, Strickland’s was one of the best known and most successful family-owned supermarkets in Eastern Ontario and attracted customers from far and wide, especially for its annual Fall Fair sale.
When the Nelsons took over the store, they were joined by his son, Ron Jr. and her daughter, Tracee, and the four worked together for many years until Ron and Doris sold the franchise in 2011 to Tracee and her husband, Mike Dillabough. Prior to the sale, Mr. Nelson purchased the former Len’s Clothing and Furniture Store and established Eganville’s Ultimate Discount Store and Ron Jr. ran the operation to be joined later by his father. They quickly developed the business into a thriving retail operation.
News of Mr. Nelson’s passing cast sadness over the community. He worked hard at his businesses and was usually the person who opened the store every day. He loved meeting and talking with people and could converse on a wide range of topics, ranging from politics at all levels, to sports and local events and issues.
Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke MPP John Yakabuski said Mr. Nelson and his family chose to make Eganville their home and became an integral part of the community.
“From the building of a modern supermarket and opening Papa Ron’s he has left an indelible mark on the local retail sector,” he said. “He will be remembered for his support of his adopted community and his causes.”
Bonnechere Valley Mayor Jennifer Murphy said Mr. Nelson made her and husband, Dave feel like they were always part of the community, “despite that we were outsiders when we moved here.
“He was such a community champion and his lifetime as a businessman touched everyone in our area. We will miss him so much,” she said.
Eight years after buying Strickland’s Supermarket, the Nelsons moved to a brand new store west of Eganville in North Algona Wilberforce Township. When the store first opened, it was under the IGA banner and was later changed to Eganville Foodland.
“Ron was an extremely important part of my life,” son-in-law Mike Dillabough said. “He was a mentor. He taught me everything about business, customer service… everything.
“He was a great guy and a lot of people don’t realize how many people Ron helped out. He is the reason we work so hard.”
Mr. Nelson was known for his hard work and long hours and he instilled a strong work ethic into his family, most of whom worked for him.
“He helped Tracee and I out so much from bringing us into the fold – well Tracee had already been working for him – to setting us up to succeed,” he said. “I could call Ron at any time and bounce anything off of him. He was so proud of everyone and what they succeeded in doing.”
For several years, Ron and Doris sponsored a major golf tournament every year and raised a lot of money for minor sports in the area. They also made their store available for various fundraisers sponsored by local organizations.
Son-in-law Peter Larose and his wife, Colleen, purchased Reinke’s Home Hardware in 2011 and remembers Mr. Nelson assisting them with the purchase and doing a lot of the leg work. He admired him for his tenacity, attention to detail and his willingness to take a risk.
“He was a trailblazer in retail,” Mr. Larose said. “He wasn’t afraid to buy a business and make a go of it. He had his whole family involved and he always had a job for everyone in the family.
“He was a great mentor, and he brought a whole new generation in retailing.”
Prior to moving to Eganville, Mr. Nelson worked for 17 years with Robinson Food Markets in Ottawa. He started his own business in 1980, Lakeside Foodmart in Ottawa and operated it for five years before purchasing Strickland’s. During those five years he worked 115 hours a week. He had given up the security he had earned with Robinson’s IGA at Cityview where he was manager and invested heavily by selling some personal assets, and borrowing to the hilt on his home and life insurance policy.
He was alone in the business and was butcher, carpenter, electrician, stockboy, bookkeeper, cashier, produce manager and much more, and also night watchman because he often slept on a cot in the basement because he was too tired to drive home to Carp.
Mr. Larose said Mr. Nelson’s motto was work hard.
“He lived for retail,” he said. “It’s all he knew. He had a few good friends, but family was everything to him.”
In business, Mr. Larose said he paid attention to detail, his competition and to his customers who he always put first.
“He loved business and he breathed it,” he said.
Mr. Dillabough said Mr. Nelson was extremely tough, but added he had the biggest heart he has ever seen. He added he enjoyed slowing down and working with Ron Jr. at Papa Ron’s where he continued to meet many people and remain active.
“I’ve never seen a father and son work so closely,” he said.
Mr. Nelson was bereaved by his wife in April 2020 and her death hit him hard as the two had worked together in the businesses for many years.
Other immediate family bedside Ron Jr. and Bridget, the Laroses and the Dillaboughs, are daughter, Debbie of Elliott Lake, stepddaughter, Maureen (M.J. McHale) and several grandchildren.