Business is about charity at a second-hand shop in Nanaimo.
Deni Bezeau ran Michelangelo Tile, a ceramic tile company, in Nanaimo for 40 years, but when his knees gave out it was time to retire, at least from the tile business.
Financially secure and with time on his hands, Bezeau, 67, bought an old grocery store at the corner of Seventh Street and Bruce Avenue in Harewood to open Deni’s Dynamite Deals, a second-hand store dedicated to producing donations for the neighbourhood in which it operates.
Bezeau opened in 2018 and sales now generate about $11,000 per month, which is donated to Nanaimo’s BGC Canada Central Vancouver Island, KidSport, Crossroads Pregnancy Centre, Nanaimo Child Development Centre, John Barsby Secondary School extracurriculars, the Vancouver Island University Hockey Club and other organizations.
About 90 per cent of the store’s inventory is items donated by Nanaimo residents and the remaining 10 per cent Bezeau purchases at garage sales.
“It all goes to the neighbourhood,” Bezeau said. “There’s no wages that come out of this store. This money goes right back to the community and people with no money, they get it free. Somebody needs to be there for a poor neighbourhood and that’s what we do here and I’ve been very blessed to have made many, many, many good friends and acquaintances through it also.”
Bezeau said buying the store was a bit of a fluke after “one thing led to another.” The building, he said, has stood more than 100 years and has been a blacksmith’s shop, one of Nanaimo’s earliest grocery stores and a convenience store that once sold huge soft-serve ice cream cones. Someday, as Harewood continues to undergo the pressures of development, it will no longer be there.
“It was the right price at the time and where I will benefit and win is when I sell it and everybody knows that,” he said.
Rob Stevenson, teacher and athletic director at John Barsby, said Bezeau started donating to the school’s football team in the spring of 2019.
“He’d seen the kids out practising and asked could we use some help with uniforms and protective equipment,” Stevenson said. “We’re always looking for that type of help and Deni brought a cheque over to the school.”
It’s policy for the team to acknowledge generosity and reciprocate it in some way.
“He needed some help with traffic control for a flea market he was doing, so we had some of the kids spend a Saturday in several shifts, just helping with parking and unloading vendors … and stuff like that. Then, sure enough, he rolls in again with some more money.”
The football team and Bezeau regularly help each other out and the relationship they’ve established has benefited other Barsby programs, such as the school’s drumline – a percussion-based music program adopted when COVID-19 made it unsafe for students to practise on wind instruments. The drumline now performs at Barsby’s football games and a recent donation of several thousand dollars was shared by the the school’s drumline and football, volleyball and basketball programs.
“With the great reset that’s happened with COVID, kids are really yearning for student activities and it’s important to have uniforms and equipment for the kids, so he’s been a godsend…” Stevenson said. “The cascading effect of that is the stronger those groups are, the stronger the school culture is … it’s a great life lesson for our young people about giving, too. We celebrate his actions with the kids and it’s an example to the kids about how they may want to go on and lead their lives.”
Bezeau would like to be able to give even more to community groups and is challenging himself to find ways to raise that monthly amount to $16,000 or even $20,000.
In addition to the cheques, he helps in other ways. He tries to take people with addictions and other life issues under his wing, he said, and they sometimes come by to help out at the store and talk about their lives and challenges.
“I try to do whatever I can to help them become better people,” Bezeau said.
He said the store and his ability to give to the community has grown into something he never anticipated and, as far as he’s concerned the world needs more people doing similar things.
“I’m hoping that the legacy I leave is for younger people to be able to see this and want to remember and, maybe as they get older they’ll have those opportunities to do what I’m doing…” Bezeau said. “I’m in a position where I can do it and I can help everybody and I never want to put down other stores because they all have their own reasons for being there. Mine is just a different purpose, that’s all.”