Nova Scotia is permit-happy, in my opinion. Our first step was to choose a name for the business and pay for a business name search. We knew we wouldn’t be able to use Dee Wee’s Takeout and Convenience. It was a personal name created by the previous owners.
The logical choice, in our opinion, was Fundy’s Mountain General Store. We didn’t want to emphasize the takeout quite as much as the previous owners had (mainly due to my lack of confidence as a cook!) . After all, the store overlooked the Bay of Fundy and was on the north side of North Mountain. I’m sure some people thought we were ignorant Ontarians naming our store after a non-existent mountain!
Once the name search cleared, Ian was then required to register his new business with the Nova Scotia Joint Stock Companies. And with the Canada Revenue Agency, of course. Permits followed. Food Establishment and Tobacco (Retail Vendor). As much as we didn’t want to sell cigarettes, a convenience store really doesn’t have the option not to.
Yet more needed to be done right away. Business bank account, merchant account, utilities set up in the new store name – it was a busy few days before the closing on November 2.
We also needed to take (and pass) food-handling courses in order to be able to operate the takeout. We signed up for the course that took place on the store’s closing day. The previous owner very kindly agreed to operate the store for us that day.
Ian had owned stores in the past. He had been in partnership with his parents in Ontario. I had never used a cash register. There was no scanner with this system. Everything had to be keyed in manually. I was a little nervous about the retail business at first. But gradually I gained confidence and became relatively adept with all point-of-sales operations.
We had to quickly learn everything there was to know about Nova Scotia wholesale suppliers. The basics – milk, bread, chips – were all guaranteed sales with rebates. Our main supplier for everything from chocolate bars to cheese was TRA (a Sobeys company). We didn’t appreciate it at the time, but we were extremely fortunate to have taken over an existing business. We would have been completely lost trying to set everything up and make all the necessary connections from scratch.
We survived the first couple of days…then came the weekend. Takeout time (at that point, the takeout was only open Friday-Sunday). By some miracle I managed to get through it, even though I’d had no real training on the proper preparation of deep-fried foods! I learned quickly that the actual process is not difficult, but timing is crucial. A minute here and there when frying can mean the difference between a well-cooked entry or a dried-out disaster.
One fryer started acting up. We called the fryer repairman, and he shut down both fryers, saying they needed parts. I was devastated. What were we going to do? Ian had the bright idea of bringing in our small portable electric fryer that we had bought for our farm bed and breakfast. We managed to get through the next weekend using it.
I discovered that I enjoyed the retail business. We met some great folks and learned many, many things we hadn’t known – such as what dulse (dried seaweed) is. Hillsburn is primarily a lobster-fishing area, though there are also a few professional clammers. The community was used to having a store – they’d had at least one for years. The site of our store had once been a very busy takeout that had been turned into a combination when the last remaining dedicated store in Hillsburn had closed up. For the most part, the residents supported our little store. They didn’t buy their week’s groceries there (except for those who didn’t dare drive over North Mountain into civilization due to a shortage of a few driving essentials, such as license and insurance!). But each would buy a particular item or two. We eventually knew exactly what would go out of the store in a few minutes just by looking at who had just walked in – that’s the sort of relationship rural small store owners develop with their customers.
There was one expectation with which we soon became familiar: letting items go out on credit. This was a tradition in Hillsburn, but not the best one, as we were soon to discover. We were warned by a few that bad credit was the reason other stores in the community had closed. Our credit customers started off well, but most stopped paying in the end. And they also stopped coming into the store, so we lost them as customers as well. We decided that when we relocated, we would say no to credit!
We tried our best to live up to our general store name by bringing in a variety of goods, from plants and soil to propane cylinders to hardware. Some people in the community called us “Little Walmart”.
The Fundy produced good sales and income. The days were long (13 hours, 7 days a week basically with only four holidays off per year), but it was a rewarding experience.
We’d been there less than a year when Ian became restless again. Too many hours, not enough time off. The turning point seemed to be the Lawrencetown Exhibition in August 2012. Everyone else got to go, but not us. We could have hired staff, but it would have added to the cost of our attendance dramatically.
Even though I wasn’t in total agreement, Ian listed his business that fall.