Reimagining the Village General Store

Tansley Woods and Wentworth Heights find new potential along Main Street      

By Kristian Partington

The local general store in any small town is a central place where neighbours bump into each other and share quick updates on life while picking up a few supplies they might need for the pantry, a spontaneous gift for a loved one or a last-minute birthday card. People buzz in and out, greeted by a shopkeeper who is somehow able to call everyone by name.   

The General Store can be a hub of Village activity.

The potential for a similar experience to be offered within the Villages lies in each General Store found along Main Street. In the past few months, The Villages of Tansley Woods in Burlington and Wentworth Heights in Hamilton have been reimagining the concept, paving a path to guide other Villages with the lessons and successes they’ve experienced.

Rena Crabb has been at the front edge of the transformation at Tansley Woods, drawing on her past experience in accounting to help keep the books aligned, and her bountiful energy to attract new patrons. Rena, along with several other resident volunteers, works closely with Darla Walker, who in September began a new position at Tansley Woods as a Community Connections Concierge. Darla’s role is to develop new opportunities to bring neighbours into the village to access services while offering other services to the community beyond. The revamp of the General Store is one piece of this targeted strategy, and she and Rena say they are pleased with the initial successes they’ve seen.

“In actual fact, it’s doing very well,” says Rena, who chanced into the opportunity to volunteer at the store after her husband passed in 2016. She decided she needed an outlet for her need to be active and busy and her name was passed to Darla in September; they’ve been a perfect pairing ever since.

“The people here at Tansley Woods were so great when my husband was ill,” Rena says, “and it’s nice to give back. Since I’m Scottish, I talk to everybody; I like meeting people and the people are extremely friendly, so I enjoy it.”

The store used to be a basic stopping point for residents to pick up small items they may need in their suites – a litre of milk, perhaps, or a roll of toilet paper. Not a lot of thought was given to expanding beyond a convenience store carrying basic goods but since last fall, they’ve branched out, now offering a variety of new items, such as gifts and greeting cards.

They try to stock items that both team members and residents, not to mention neighbours from outside of the Village and guests of The Ruby restaurant, will find appealing. Darla says they’ve surveyed residents to ask what people would like to see in the store, and they’re carefully creating a stock of inventory based on many of these suggestions.

“We continue to bring in new items because the old things sell, so I think it’s going very positively,” Darla says. As a true social enterprise, all of the profits generated through the store are poured directly back into the Village through residents’ council.

“We’re very happy when the store sells well because it means revenue will be going back into resident activities,” Darla says.