The shop bell chimes heavily as I push open the front door of the shop. White paneled walls display rows and rows of shiny new weed trimmers, chainsaws, and other assorted machinery. There is a lingering smell of oil and the intermittent revving of an engine in the background. I am entering J.T. Sport.
This year J.T. Sport will celebrate 40 years at its location in Ormstown on Highway 138; but the business is actually much older. It was originally established in Hawkesbury, Ontario, as a motorcycle shop. “J” and “T” were the original owners of the business, and when Steve Tucker took over the company, he decided the name still worked as his wife was Joan Tucker – “J” and “T” were also her initials. Tucker then moved the motorcycle shop to Quebec.
J.T. Sport first settled in Sainte-Martine where it remained from 1981 to 1983. Tucker rented the building that later housed the restaurant, Miss Ste-Martine. Today, La Roukyne can be found there.
The business slowly evolved. It still sold motorcycles, then started doing bicycle repairs. One day, a motorcycle supplier who also sold chainsaws visited the store. “You’ve gotta put some saws in your store!” he told Tucker. “What do I know about chainsaws?” Tucker replied. “I knew nothing. I had never used one,” he reflects. He decided to carry a few saws. “And it just went from there,” he says.
Business was poor in the eighties in the middle of the economic recession. Tucker laments, “If you were going to start a business it was the worst time to start.” A friend from Hawkesbury helped out in the store, and Tucker’s wife, Joan, who taught at Chateauguay Valley Regional High School, came in to do the books every night after school.
They expanded the business to include machinery repairs. Tucker says, “There is always a need for repair work, so we just drifted into what turned up.” Soon the store’s income was split fifty-fifty between repairs and sales. “People come to you and buy from you because you repaired their stuff. You fix a man’s chainsaw for four or five years; then, when he needs a new one, well, he sort of thinks of you,” explains Tucker.
In 1983 Tucker moved the business from Sainte-Martine and built a “shack” on the 138 in Ormstown. The smaller location meant that his business was suddenly cut in half. Over the years, Tucker expanded bit by bit whenever he had enough money. The scarred floors tell the story of where the original front desk used to stand and where the original pillars used to be.
Today he employs eight people, and he wants to hire more. Working at the store are Tucker’s son, Linus, who is a Briggs and Stratton master technician; grandson Zachary Tucker, a certified Echo Stihl and Husqvarna technician; and Nancy Riley, who seems to organize everyone and everything and has worked there for 17 years. Her son, Noah Riley, as well as Malyssa Houle, Melodie Barriere, and Cory Ovans also work at the store.
A Valleyfield store
In 2013 J.T. Sport opened another store in Valleyfield. Tucker recalls his neighbor’s warning words: “You won’t make money there for at least 15 years,” but, he says, “We did pretty good.” However, they were robbed twice. “The first robbery was $10,000 worth of stuff and the second one was $8000.” Tucker started sleeping in the store because he kept getting calls from the alarm company. “If anything in the store flutters, like a piece of paper falls to the ground, the alarm goes off – it’s very nerve wracking,” he adds. “It just wasn’t worth the work,” he concludes; he closed the Valleyfield store in 2020.
Selling and repairing
Tucker has no schooling and is self-taught, and yet there is little that he cannot repair. When asked what drew him to repair, he laughs: “I bought a motorcycle. When it broke, it made me crazy! I wanted to go riding. I learned before my friends how to fix my motorcycle, to tinker with it and experiment with it. If you understand internal combustion engine theory, then you can fix anything. You get really good at something if you do a lot. We sharpen a lot of chainsaws, and we fix a lot of chainsaws; you learn all the time.”
Tucker describes a chainsaw engine: “It’s a single-cylinder, two-stroke engine; it’s the simplest engine you can get. But people find them extraordinarily hard to work on. I don’t know why.” Over the years these engines have not really changed. “There are too many people in the industry, and they all cut prices. It makes it hard to do repairs. The price of parts has gone up, so sometimes it’s not worth fixing them.”
Battery-powered small engines are a relatively new thing. “It seemed to start with the EGO lawnmowers. There is room for batteries, but people are predicting the demise of the internal combustion engine. It’s not going to happen,” Tucker says.
He says the biggest change to his business is the lack of personal service from suppliers. “It used to be we had a good sales representative come here. A sales rep would come by on a Friday night at about seven o’clock, and we would sit down together and have supper, and would book maybe $175,000 to $250,000 worth of tractors. We used to have good salesmen. Now, I don’t recognize them when they come in, because I haven’t seen them in so long. We have no more personal service.” Today, they place their orders themselves. “The companies are terribly bureaucratic; they set it up so they don’t have to speak to you. … The personal interaction is not there any longer,” he laments.
Tucker hopes to retire one day and work on his 25 British racing motorcycles. His preference is motor cross racing. Although he stopped doing competitions in 2014, he is usually involved in the annual motorcycle events that take place at Centaur Farms in Ormstown. He has worked with his friend, Eric Pritchard, on these events for 11 years.
For now, Tucker’s day starts early and the store opens at 8 a.m. People saunter in without appointments. “People just show up,” he says. When there is a rush, repairs can take two or three weeks, but they try to fix farmers’ equipment faster.
May is the busiest time for Tucker and his crew, as people bring out all their garden stuff and discover that it doesn’t work. In recent years chainsaw repairs have overlapped repairs for lawn equipment. Tucker states with pride: “If we have a strong point, it’s that we have everything and we have lots. If you need something, you just come in and we have got it.”