By Angelica Ingram
Published Aug. 23, 2016
Next week the final installment of a three-part series on general stores will be published in the long-weekend issue of this paper.
The series, which was penned by yours truly, was inspired by a colleague who thought it would be interesting to showcase all that can be found in businesses that are known as general stores.
When I first embarked on the series I wasn’t sure where to start. What made these stores special? Why did people flock to them? How did they manage to stay in business?
The answers to these questions unfolded over the next three months as I visited three corners of the county, namely West Guilford, Wilberforce and Dorset.
The stores selected had all been in business for many decades, some passed through many generations of the same family.
What I learned early on was it was not easy to schedule an interview with the owners of the stores, as the summer months marked a busy time and the storekeepers were often working around the clock.
Meeting the owners and getting familiar with the stores, those being the West Guilford Shopping Centre, Agnew’s General Store and Robinson’s General Store, only confirmed my suspicions: these stores were the heartbeat of their respective communities.
The stores were in many ways the pillar of the communities they inhabited and those who ran them were not just bosses or friendly faces behind a meat counter, they were a part of the fabric that held the community together.
When I met Bill Burden, owner of the WG Shopping Centre, he was a humble and soft spoken man.
Two weeks later he was named the West Guilford citizen of the year. The news of the award, which was shared on social media, went viral (at least in Haliburton terms) with nothing but praise and positive comments.
Burden is a beloved member of the community and as a result, his store is a thriving and popular business.
The same day I interviewed Mary Barker of Agnew’s General Store, she attended a community meeting that evening to try to keep a bank in her town of Wilberforce. Barker was passionate about the cause, just like she is about geocaching, a popular attraction she has helped spearhead in Highlands East.
And who could not be amazed at Brad Robinson’s knowledge of the history of Dorset or his passion for the community he has called home for more than 80 years? Even while Robinson gave a tour of the store, showcasing its offerings, he re-stacked coffee containers, straightened up rows of shopping carts and was engaged in many conversations with customers. It was clear the store was in his blood.
These business owners don’t run these stores for the riches, the fame or all the vacation time they get. With most of the stores open 360 days a year (or more) and attracting most of their business during the summer months, holidays are few and far between.
They do it because they love their communities, the place they call home.
So the next time you’re walking by a general store don’t let the name fool you. There is nothing general about those places of business or the people who operate them all year long.
It is within the walls of those buildings where the heartbeats of our communities lie.