Brian Hann had no idea when he took a job travelling throughout the province, repairing appliances for Cohen’s, that the position would lead him to a rewarding career that today spans four decades.
Hann was just 20 years old at the time he started working for Cohen’s.
“I remember being hired by Boyd Cohen. It was my first full-time job,” Hann said.
After working in appliance repairs for about 20 years, he moved into customer service with the company before taking on the role of manager of the Grand Falls-Windsor store. He accepted another promotion about 10 years ago to his current job as director of sales.
Part of the family
While he saw other people leaving the province in search of good jobs over the years, Hann said he’s always felt satisfied working for Cohen’s.
“You grow with the company. You get more comfortable with the people you are working with. I knew this was the place for me. And I have no regrets.”
Cohen’s has always treated its employees like family, Hann said.
"Mr. (Boyd) Cohen was such an easy-going man. He made everybody feel comfortable. He knew your spouse’s name. He knew your kids’ names. I remember going out on his boat, jigging a few fish, having a pot of stew.”
Hann said just as Cohen’s was always a family-run business under the Cohen name, things continued that way when the Bell family took over the business in the mid-1980s.
“And we are still a big part of the communities that we are in, whether it be minor hockey, minor baseball or other organizations that we’re involved in,” he said.
Cohen’s Home Furnishings is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Simon Cohen and his son Charles founded the company in 1919.
Boyd Cohen (Simon Cohen’s grandson) was at the helm of the business for many decades, until 1985, when he sold the chain to another well known Newfoundland business - Charles R. Bell Limited.
Randy Bell, chair of Bell Holdings Limited, has retired as Cohen’s owner. His children, Ruth Bell Steinhauer and Tim Bell, now own and operate the business, with Bell Steinhauer serving as the company's president. Their brothers, Chris and Andrew Bell, had also worked for the company but have since moved on to other business ventures.
Cohen’s now has about 100 employees in 13 stores - 11 corporate and two franchise stores, in Port au Choix and Forteau, Labrador - and many locations are in rural areas of the province.
Through the decades, Cohen’s has supported its employees as well as the community. Numerous groups have benefitted from the company’s fundraising initiatives, including Ronald McDonald House.
“We feel it’s really important to give back to the community,” Bell Steinhauer said.
Much of Cohen’s success, she said, goes to its employees, who she refers to as “the face of Cohen’s.”
Three employees - Hann, Rex Loveridge, also in Grand Falls-Windsor, and Bill Maloney at the Bonavista store - have been working for Cohen’s for 40 years.
“We believe in promoting within... we have a lot of employees who have been with us 25, 30, 35 years. We’re very proud of that,” she said.
Bell Steinhauer said Cohen’s is grateful to its customers for their continued support of local businesses.
“We have a very loyal customer base that we really appreciate,” she said.
1919 - Simon Cohen and his eldest son Charles opened a general store in Grand Falls Station (which later became the Town of Windsor).
1925 - Cohen’s started to grow and opened new stores, one on Bell Island and the other in Corner Brook. A private bus service was created in Windsor to serve as a home-to-store convenience for customers.
1946 - Cohen’s moved into furniture and created more space at its original Windsor store.
1953 - Buying in bulk became Cohen’s new way of getting customers the best products at the best prices. Furniture from across Canada and from the United States was imported in railroad cars.
1956 - Cohen’s expanded again, this time to High Street, the downtown core of Grand Falls.
1958 - The firm expanded to Gander and soon opened other stores in Springdale, Clarenville and Baie Verte.
1975 - Cohen’s opened a large store and warehouse on Cromer Avenue in Grand Falls. Another larger warehouse which was built across the street, and several tractor trailers, allowed the company to keep the chain supplied from one central location.
1985 - Cohen’s became province-wide when Charles R. Bell Limited bought and expanded the chain to cover all of Newfoundland and Labrador.
2019 - There are 13 stores – 11 corporate and two franchise stores under the Cohen’s banner.