Small business revival: return of the general store

Posted on January 02, 2024 | By Philip Moscovitch | 0 Comments


LEFT: A.E. Smith general store, Oxford, Cumberland County, 1912. (L-R): Artemus Ewart Smith (owner), Vera Baird and Perce H. Johnson. The store sold a little of everything including five-cent tickets to the Fairyland Theatre on the third floor where movie goers flocked to watch “the wonderful new Edison Talkies.”
RIGHT: Joseph Talmage (J.T.) Irwin’s general store, Port Morien, Cape Breton, N.S. operated c.1917-late 1940s. Flour was selling for $5.75 a barrel, winter suits for $6.98. The second-floor window display advertised fine crockery, glassware, tinware, Ostermoor mattresses, bedroom suites and couches.


It was one of those beautiful April days in Nova Scotia, when the sun is shining brightly after a long winter, and the temperature feels like it should be warmer than it is.

Audra Williams and her husband, Haritha Gnanaratna, had moved from Toronto to rural Nova Scotia in 2021, with the dream of opening a shop of their own. (Williams had lived in the province when she was younger and had long hoped to come back.) Now, a year later, a job at a since-closed restaurant on the province’s South Shore had fallen apart, the couple were staying with friends and their personal possessions were in a storage pod. They didn’t know what to do next. So, they decided to take a drive to Hirtle’s Beach, about 90 minutes from downtown Halifax.

“It was so windy,” Williams remembers. “And there was a family there with Ontario plates, and there was a little toddler, maybe four or five, building a sandcastle with goggles and a parka on. And I was like, ‘I’ve really led us astray, Haritha.’”

Eighteen months later, in November 2023, Gnanaratna chats with customers and foams milk for a latte behind the counter of Rosefinch Mercantile and Tea Room in the tiny South Shore town of Port Medway. He does not look like a man who has been led astray.

The building is over a century old and used to house the Port Medway Grocer. It shut down early in the pandemic, leaving the town without a local place to buy groceries for the first time in about 200 years.

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