End of an era but business as usual at Agnew’s General Store
By Sue Tiffin
Published Feb. 14, 2018
Mary Barker is going to miss having easy access to nickel candy and ice cream, now that Agnew’s General Store has been sold and no longer belongs to her family for the first time in 96 years.
“When I get an urge for an ice cream cone at 10 p.m. I’m going to miss not being able to sneak into the store and indulge,” joked Barker. “My cholesterol levels should drop.”
Barker and her sisters Cathy and Wynne Agnew sold the popular Wilberforce landmark earlier this month to Frank Meurer from Fort Erie.
Meurer has been visiting the area for a few years as a rockhound, a person interested in geology, for which the area is well-known.
“I fell in love with the community and the store back then, thought it was beautiful, and then I saw it was for sale,” he said.
He said when he saw the store being listed, he pulled resources together to invest in it and is excited to be the new owner of the shop with much of the trusted team behind him – Cathy and Wynne are staying on to operate the store, familiar face Karin Guyton will still be seen and Mary hasn’t taken a break from being the busy and friendly postmaster.
Meurer is adamant about thanking the community, and also ensuring regular customers – many who have expressed their love for the store – that he has no intent to change anything.
“I don’t want to mess with Agnew’s, I’m not going to mess with Agnew’s,” he said. “It’s business as usual.”
Barker said she does feel, “a little sad, a little guilty,” about the sale of the store her grandfather Fred, took over in 1921, but is also excited to see what life outside the store is like.
“It would have been nice to hold on to the store until the 100th anniversary but we had to weigh that against giving up another three years of our lives just to do that,” she said. “Life is short. Before I die I want to see what it feels like to have a holiday weekend off.”
Barker said her parents Murray and Eileen died at age 81 and 78, still working 60-hour weeks up until their deaths and never got to retire.
“Our aching knees told us it was time to sell,” said Barker. “There are four flights of stairs in the building and it seems that for one reason or another we are constantly having to lug stuff up and down them. Wynne is 16 years younger than me with healthier knees so she wasn’t quite as ready to sell but she didn’t want to take on the running of the store single handed so she had little choice but to go along with selling it. John [Barker’s husband] wanted out at age 60 and he just turned 69 so it was definitely time to sell.”
When it came time to hand the store off after five generations have worked in it, Barker said it wasn’t hard to choose an owner.
“We have a book here at the store titled, Retail Selling isn’t Brain Surgery, It’s Twice as Hard,” said Barker. “Knowing Frank was ‘the one’ wasn’t brain surgery. Frank said he wanted to buy the store so that made him ‘the one.’ Bonus is that it turns out he really is a great guy.”
Besides Meurer wanting to buy the store, there were some signs that left Barker in peace. Frank’s initials are F.G., just like F.G. Agnew, her grandfather. Fred Agnew was an avid photographer who turned photos from the local area into postcards. Frank, the new owner of Agnew’s, brought along his camera, too.
“It’s kind of neat, when I saw him with the camera, I thought, ‘oh my goodness,’” said Barker. “He was sitting at our grandfather’s desk with his camera and tripod, sitting there, with the same initials.”
“So I’ll be an honourary Agnew,” laughed Meurer.
Meurer is already looking forward to how to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the store, grateful that the team is staying on to ensure the history of the store carries on.
“I’m already thinking that’s going to be a big year,” he said.
He’s planning on becoming a full-time resident in the area, and to staying in the background to help operate the store as it has run for almost a century.
“It is all ‘different’ in a ‘familiar’ way,” said Barker.