25 years ago, smart shopping guru learned a magic word: Chabanel
About 25 years ago, I was a stay-at-home mom keeping busy as the program chairperson of a women’s group. How could I have known, when I invited nurse Nes Welham to come and give a talk about the booklet she wrote about bargain shopping and Chabanel St., that it would change my life forever?
Being a newcomer to Canada, and to Montreal, I had never heard the magic word “Chabanel.” Nes brought a suitcase full of goodies to show us what she had bought and what she had paid. I was so interested in what she had to say that I went up to her afterward and offered to help. She contacted me a while later and asked me if I wanted to buy her book business.
I had never thought about writing a book. I have a master’s degree in Art and Education, and was an art teacher before becoming a mom. I went on vacation and when thoroughly rested, I discussed it with my husband, Stan Posner. He is and always was my best cheerleader, and he said: “Of course you can do that.” I agreed with him, but had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Throughout the year, I took my toddler in his stroller to all the places in Nes’s booklet and to others I had filed away. After a while, he coined the term “work shopping,” and I had to promise to only take him a couple of days a week. I think I used up all the shopping days of his life.
When I told shopkeepers I was writing a book about bargain stores in Montreal, they were aghast. They didn’t want to be in a book with that title, since “bargain” was a dirty word in those days. I started doing research undercover, and changed the title to Smart Shopping Montreal, which could straddle bargain shops and specialty stores.
After a year, I managed to write a 150-page book. I had no clue about typesetting, printing, selling, distributing, marketing or running a company—I thought I was only writing a book. A neighbour, Lorne Besner, ran a typesetting company, and someone else sent me to Grant Printing. I paid way too much for everything, since I didn’t know about sending out requests to solicit for the best price.
I marched myself into the main Coles book store on Ste. Catherine and asked the manager, Taylor, if he would sell the book. He said sure, he’d take the book on consignment (whatever that meant). Thus fortified, I presented myself at every English bookstore in the city, and each one said yes.
A salesman at Benjamin News asked me about next year’s edition, and I was perplexed. I thought I had written a book and that was that. I had no idea that anyone expected it to be written over and over again. Also, I had to get it translated into French for the other half of the city.
Unknowingly, I had produced an “evergreen” book, one that lasts forever. It is in its 13th edition and has been printed 28 times.
I chatted it up on radio and TV with Neil McKenty, Royal Orr, Jim Duff, Chuck Phillips, Andrew Carter, Dave Bronstetter, Nancy Wood, Beta Wayne, Leslie Roberts, Peter Anthony Holder, Dennis Trudeau and on and on. Eventually I was invited to join the CTV Noon News with Mutsumi Takahashi and Brian Britt, and later with Todd van der Heyden. I even did French radio and TV shows.
When Duff started up the Montreal Daily News, he got Robyn Bryant, the lifestyles editor, to invite me to be the shopping columnist. I said no at first, because I didn’t want to have a term paper to write every week. I had no idea I was being offered the ultimate job at a newspaper, since it was a field I knew little about. Robyn said to try it for a month. Unbelievably, I found it effortless.
When I met Duff at the Christmas party the first year, I asked him innocently, “If I wrote about chocolates last year for Valentine’s Day, what will I write about this Valentine’s Day?” He answered, “Don’t worry Sandra, you’ll never run out of ideas.” He was right, but how did he know?
I wrote for the Daily News from its first issue to its last, and when it closed I tried to get a job at The Gazette—I was a columnist, after all!
Ashok Chandwani, then life editor, said no, since “We already do that.” (Maybe bargains were covered three times a year!) Duff advised me, “If you can’t get in the front door, try the side door.” I approached the weekend edition and started doing feature stories. Eventually I wrote a weekly shopping column. That gig lasted 15 years.
I belatedly joined the Professional Writers Association of Canada and the Travel Media Association of Canada, and learned the things I should’ve known before I started. At SmartShoppingMontreal.com, I started writing a “shlog” (shopping blog). Who would have thought that volunteering would one day lead to my becoming a shopping guru, best-selling author, newspaper columnist, TV and radio broadcaster, Internet business and famous Montrealer?ont door, try the side door.” I approached the weekend edition and started doing feature stories. Eventually I wrote a weekly shopping column. That gig lasted 15 years. I belatedly joined the Professional Writers Association of Canada and the Travel Media Association of Canada, and learned the things I should’ve known before I started. At SmartShoppingMontreal.com, I started writing a “shlog” (shopping blog). Who would have thought that volunteering would one day lead to my becoming a shopping guru, best-selling author, newspaper columnist, TV and radio broadcaster, Internet business and famous Montrealer?