The times they are a-changing….
General Store Closing
In cottage country the general store is usually the focal point of the local community. In some ways it could be said the general store is the community, especially in the smaller locales, where there isn’t much more than the general store and gas bar when it comes to businesses and a sense of place.
The general store is the place where many of the local residents find employment for the summer, where people eek out a living year after year, forgoing their summer so they can cater to yours.
These are the places that house the local post office, the gas station, the coffee shop and the general store…the store that has a little bit of anything and everything.
You know the store I am talking about, you have one in your cottage community I am sure, if not right in your community, not too far away.
The kind of store that has catered to the come-from-aways each summer for what seems like forever, selling everything and anything a camper or cottager might need, and even some things you don’t need.
The type of store that is an adventure to browse, where the items on the shelves are not usually the typical run of the mill same-old-same-old found in the larger department stores in the city.
Tough Times For Small Stores
But, as I said, the times they are a-changing. These days it is harder and harder for small family run rural stores and gas stations to keep going. The bigger grocery and department stores are reaching further and further out into the country. Almost everyone has a car, truck, motorcyle or helicopter or motorized scooter and while complaining about the price of gas, we’ll happily burn $5.00 in gas to save 32 cents on a loaf of bread and then complain about the price of gas.
Recently our cottage general store has come to the end of the line, it’s going out of business. There is an unsettling realtor’s For Sale sign nailed to the side of the building, and prices on everything in the store have been marked down to clean out the remaining inventory.
These types of rural stores are disappearing, slowly but surely. They are the victims of urban sprawl, increasing competition, higher labour costs, and more. It’s the old adage, when things go wrong, they really go wrong.
When it happens close to us we lament the demise of our local general store, forgetting how we balked at paying a few cents more for a pack of cigarettes, a pound of sugar or a bottle of propane for the camp barbecue.
We forget about the costs the storekeepers incur stocking their little general store with much needed essentials for us, the wayward cottagers who arrive from the city each Spring, all full of cottager exhuberance, excited to get to the lake.
We forget about how difficult it is to keep a store open and running from early in the morning until late into the night, day after day, usually seven days a week all summer long.
When the rest of us are basking in the summer sunshine, floating around the lake on our pontoon boats, casting a fly into our favorite trout pool, reading the latest novel on our Amazon Kindle while swinging the afternoon away in a hammock, the storekeeper is minding the store, keeping things going and the shelves stocked with a little bit of everything so that it is there when we need it.
A Long History
The closing of our local general store marks the end of an era of sorts. The store has been open since 1932, it was renewed and made larger many years ago, but the culture of the original general store always remained.
That store has been serving fishermen, hunters, cottagers, tourists and local residents longer than most of us reading this have been alive. It was there long before the road was paved, when wagons pulled by horses outnumbered the cars.
The general store was there when men came to the area to work in the woods cutting lumber, it was there when locals worked as hunting and fishing guides to take folks to the back woods on sporting adventures and it was there when the province started paving the highway that ran past it.
It was there in the 40’s when the world went off to war and it was there when the world came back. It was there when I started to drive, it was there when I bought gas for my first boat, in fact, it was there my entire life, a familiar place with familiar faces, a tradition, when it comes to going to the camp.
Our local general store was in the same family until very recently, changing hands a few years back. The former owners, descendants of the original storekeeper, sold it a few years ago, when they decided it was time for a much needed rest and retirement.
The new owners changed things up a bit, as new owners of anything are typically wont to do, but for all intents and purposes, it was still “our” general store and much the same as it had always been. It was still a great place to pick up something we forgot to bring for the weekend, have an ice cream on a hot afternoon, gas up the boat, or meet some old friends just to chat.
Do It All
You could do it all there, at the general store. You could buy gas for the boat, a fishing licence and some worms, propane for the barbee, a shiny new bar and chain for the chainsaw, a pair of rubber boots and a pair of sunglasses to cut the glare off the lake.
You could pick up a can of beans with pork for supper, all beef hotdogs for roasting over the rosy coals of starlite evening campfire, a much needed bottle of ketchup for your burgers or a roll or two of TP for the outhouse.
You could buy a hat to keep the sun off your head and some Noxema Skin Care Cream when the hat didn’t keep the sun off your face, and you could buy a greeting card or a gift for your neighbor celebrating a birthday you forgot. You could even pick up your pension cheque or love letters at the post office, if you had your mail forwarded to the cottage for the summer.
In cottage season, it was usually a busy place. The center of the community in more ways than one. There were weekly card games in their meeting room, occasionally dances in the parking lot, Saturday flea markets, and when there were local summer events like the huge sandcastle building contest at the nearby beach, they were usually somehow associated with the general store.
And the best part, at least for me, was when you had something to buy or sell you could put a sign on the notice board just inside the doors. That was always the first stop for me as I entered the building.
A Friendly Face
No matter when you went to the general store, you’d see someone you knew. Usually a fellow cottager, a neighbor, sometimes even friends from the city, stopping for gas as the toured the local area, and if all else failed, the person behind the counter was always glad to see you.
It’s a sad time in cottage land my friends when these small operations close their doors, regardless of the reason, whether financial, or just too much work and long hours for the owners. The reason is immaterial.
What is material is that the loss of the general store in your cottage community is a big one, and each time one closes, a little bit of rural cottage country is closed too.
Once it’s gone, once the doors close on that general store, picking up a forgotten bar of Ivory soap won’t be so easy. It will mean a longer drive to the next closest store, a grocery store.
Yes, I admit, the grocery store has most everything too, including a signboard for posting for sale notices and lots of toilet paper for the outhouse. But it’s not the same, it’s further away for one thing. It’s a grocery store just like any other grocery store in any other city or town for another. As nice as it might be, it will never have the character, the personality of that old general store in your community.
But the bar of soap won’t matter, you will just have to be more diligent in your packing. What will matter will be not being able to drive the five minutes to the store, seeing people coming and going through it’s double doors. Seeing life in the country happen right before our eyes on a sunny Saturday morning, as people come and go on their respective errands and journeys.
You won’t find that odd little fitting you need to get your ancient water pump working again, or the six inch bolt to replace the one you dropped in the lake when you were putting your wharf together.
Life goes on, it always does, but sometimes, it doesn’t go exactly how we would like. If the general store in your local cottage country is still open, drop by and get yourself a loaf of bread and some TP for the outhouse, and don’t forget to thank the owner for being there when you needed him.
Support Your Local General Store
Support your local cottage general store folks, pay the extra few cents for a loaf of bread, or a litre of boat oil, because like the song says, “You don’t know what you got till it’s gone.”
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