On the eve of its 100th birthday in 2021, Dorset’s Robinson’s General Store and its accompanying holdings are on the block.
Brad Robinson said the east side of much of Dorset’s downtown, from the Algonquin Highlands community centre to the water, is on the market for $6 million. It includes the general store building, the adjacent plaza, the land now leased by a real estate agent, a house and a waterfront that can accommodate about 15 boats.
In a chat with The Highlander, Brad said the decision wasn’t easy, but “it’s time.” His daughter Joanne now operates the store with her husband Willie Hatton and Brad said they had decided to retire. He is still involved in the store himself at the age of 84.
Brad recalled how he made a decision to sell the store about 28 years ago. He said he was getting “played out” and rang Joanne to let her know of his decision. A few day later, he said Joanne phoned back to tell him not to sell, since they were thinking of moving back home with Brad’s soon-to-be born grandson, Ryan.
Brad took over the store at the tender age of 20 almost 65 years ago. At the time, he had finished high school and was pondering his future. He was contemplating university and had a job offer from the Hudson Bay Company for one of its northern stores. He said he and his dad were sitting around the kitchen table and his dad said, “why don’t you stay here? [The business] isn’t working the way it’s going now. From now on, you’re going to be the boss and will make the final decisions.
“But the store was small, only 75ft by 25ft,” Brad says with a chuckle. It’s gone through 14 additions since then. “We’re really running four stores in one here,” he said of the main building. “It’s a big responsibility but that’s the way it works. We could not make a go at it if we just had a grocery store or a hardware store or a clothing store, there’s not enough business.”
Brad admits it has been a bittersweet decision. He said they are concerned about their employees. They have 10 staff this time of year, a number that balloons to about 60 in summer. “We would certainly hope that whoever would take over would also take over our employees because they know how to run the store,” he says.
He adds customers are also anxious, especially seniors. “They don’t know what’s going to happen. If they don’t have a store like ours or something similar it means they have to drive 100 km to do shopping.” He said some are fearful of driving to larger centres such as Huntsville or Bracebridge because if they get into a fender-bender they could lose automobile insurance or their license. He said they have a lot of faithful customers and he feels for them.
“The thing is when you’re in a situation like I’m in, you become friends with your customers. People come in and have a visit. Locals and the tourists in the spring, they can hardly wait to get here. On a big weekend, I can hardly talk by the end of the day. And I’m a talker. People want to be part of it. They want to make sure that we’re here. And our business has drawn a lot of people to Dorset and now we have an ideal situation in Dorset. We have every business full and they’re all doing well.”
Looking back, Brad says he feels blessed to have lived in Dorset and seen the province release Crown land so the area could be developed in the middle of last century. “I look back and it was the Ontario government that really helped us in this area. They opened up 97 per cent of the township here for cottage lots and so consequently the country filled up quickly so that’s why we put 14 additions on the store because as the businesses grew, we grew the store to accommodate it.”
He’s looking forward to spending more time at the cottage, even having sleepovers. He said he hadn’t had one in two years. But he’s not complaining. “You do in life what you want to do. If I’d wanted to go, I would have gone.”