Whether small town or big city, the closure of any business is always a blow to the people who call themselves customers. This past month has seen a number of local business closures, starting with Central Building Supply in West Cooks Cove.
As Christmas drew near, news spread that both Boylston and Country Harbour would lose their convenience stores; the only small market shops in those communities. These losses are significant for rural residents and will be sorely missed; not just for a quick trip for milk but also as locations where community members met on a regular basis.
Smith's Irving in Country Harbour has been a mainstay for decades, with Jim Smith taking over the business in August of 1978 from his brother. At that time the business included a gas station, convenience store and service station where vehicle inspections and tire changes were available.
Over the years, Smith's Irving changed and offered less in terms of auto service, leading to last year's discontinuation of fuel sales. Smith, 66, says the gas tanks had to be replaced and knowing that he was soon retiring, he didn't think he should take on that cost with only a year or two left in business.
Sunday, December 31 was the last day of operation for Smith's store -- but it needn't have been the case. Smith is retiring but he was hoping to sell the store. There were no takers. He blames the lack of interest in the store, which was in his eyes a viable business, on outmigration.
"For the biggest part, it's the drain of people away. If a person was younger you could put your tanks back,” he said of the possibilities.
For Smith, it's been a long and good career in business. Born in Country Harbour, the service station business was in his blood. His father Bruce Smith had owned and operated numerous service stations in Antigonish, which he worked in during his youth. When he came to take over the Country Harbour store from his brother, he says, “We knew all about what we were getting in to.”
The best times, says Smith, were when the mines were running in Forest Hills and Goldboro in the 80s. There was plenty of business then. He also is fond of the days when the store was the community news hub, but most of the the customers that made up those story sessions have passed away.
Smith thanks all the customers who have supported the business over these many years. He says he'll miss them as much a they'll miss the store; for both the company and the convenience.
In Boylston, Hart's Convenience was a mainstay for many years. Along with offering an enticing selection of ice cream for the beach crowd in summer, there were weekly jam sessions at the The Crow's Nest (a small dinning section included in the store) and fireworks for all the big occasions.
Hart's was a unique compilation of everyday items and local offerings such as post cards, calendars and other wares created by locals.
Garth Wilson lives up the road from Hart's and reflected on the closure of the store in an online interview. “I am sorry to see it go. I was not in there everyday but it was nice to know it was there. It was a store but also a place to congregate, socialize, pick up and drop things off, have a coffee, etc.”
Hart's was Boylston's last convenience store. Just over five years ago Connolly's General Store in Boylston closed. That business was the only gas station in the Boylston/Guysborough area for many years and was a great loss to the surrounding communities.
"I didn't like seeing Connolly's close and I don't enjoy seeing Hart's close either. It's been there a long time,” says Wilson.
While there are high hopes for larger projects to bring employment to these rural areas, the loss of these small local businesses are difficult and, as Jim Smith says, “Any store that closes, they will be missed.”