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C-gas all-stars: Local pride

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TJ Sheehan grew up in a small town a few kilometres south of Enniskillen, ON, where he spent his childhood summers going to the Enniskillen General Store for ice cream. So when he and his wife, Jessie, saw a ‘For Sale’ sign on the store in 2014, TJ knew they had to buy it and restore it to its former glory.

“When we got the store, the first thing we knew we needed to do was paint, so we did that because it was really looking old,” he says. “The previous family that owned the store had it for 28 years and they’re the ones that really got the ice cream program going.”

And ice cream is what puts this store on the map.

Something for everyone

“We said early on that if our focus is ice cream and we want to keep everyone happy with ice cream, then let’s get everything we can,” he says.

They carry Kawartha Dairy ice cream exclusively, which is a well known family business located about an hour away from Enniskillen.

The previous owner carried 16 flavours, but when the Sheehans took over they added another cooler and doubled the number of flavours to 32. “Then again this year, we added more flavours, so we actually carry every single flavour of ice cream Kawartha Dairy makes.”

Although it’s a top-selling category, not all customers want ice cream, so Sheehan ensures the other categories are just as appealing. They expanded their confectionery and snack offerings, and recently introduced coffee for the commuters and gravel-truck drivers who often stop in during their workday.

“Some of our customers know when our milk deliveries happen, so they’ll come on that day every week to get their Kawartha Dairy milk,” he says.

A proud history

The Enniskillen General Store is an institution in the community. “The store was originally built in 1840 for Canada Post; it’s 175 years old this year, which is huge,” says Sheehan.

When the Sheehans took over the store in 2014, they had a lot of support. “The community was so happy to see the store get a paint job and get cleaned up. It had just gone so long without a facelift. There’s a lot of history here and I want to celebrate it,” he says.

The store has quickly become a hub for the community, and a place to celebrate all things local. “We’ve got an event called The Butter Tart Fest, and local bakers from across Durham Region come and set up a table. It’s free for them, but it’s an event that brings people out to our store, and the bakers can get their products out there and make a little money from their sales. Last year, over 500 butter tarts were sold,” he says.

Even though TJ has a budding career in local politics and Jessie is a full-time nurse, they believe the Enniskillen General Store has an important role in the community and they make it a priority to keep their customers smiling.

“We’re selling ice cream. It’s not one of those retail businesses where you get a lot of complaints. People are happy when they’re getting ice cream!” 

3 ways you can stand out in your community: 

1. Go all the way. If you’re going to create a niche for your store, be sure to commit fully. In other words, carry all the flavours!

2. Showcase local. Connect with local producers and set your store apart by carrying local brands and products.

3. Bring people together. Host events or gatherings to establish your store as a hub for the community.