Barnhill's Superette offers a little bit of everything for Debert and area residents
Spanning four generations, a family-owned grocery store has been serving the needs of Debert and area residents for the past 91 years.
Located on Folly Mountain Road where it meets the Plains Road, Barnhill's Superette sold everything in its early days, from groceries, animal feed, gasoline, kerosene, paint and hardware and lumber supplies.
"Molasses, vinegar, sugar, raisins, beans and apples were sold in bulk," said store owner Randy Barnhill. "Clothing items such as Stanfield's underwear and work boots were also popular items."
Randy's grandfather Homer purchased the store from Debert Merchandising Company Ltd. June 8, 1921. His father Wendell took over the store in 1961 and ran it until 1983.
Randy, who had worked in the store as a teenager during the late 1960s and early 1970s, then took over.
"After attending Mount Allison University, I had eight different placings with the Royal Bank in seven-and-a-half years," Randy said. "My mother (Bette) was soon to retire as a school teacher and my two daughters, Carrie and Christie, were ready to start school. I thought it would be nice for them to have their grandmother as a teacher."
Wendell recalled a time when Barnhill's General Grocery was one of many stores operating in Debert.
"During the Second World War, there were six main grocery stores in Debert," Wendell said. "Debert was a busy place, especially when they were building the military base, Camp Debert. Later, there were canteens and other shops on the base that sold groceries and goods. One interesting memory I have is 25 to 30 soldiers being in our store at one time. The store was also a hangout for a lot of kids when my father ran it."
Wendell said he was fortunate during the years he owned the business.
"I put in a lot of hours but it proved to be good," he said. "Financially, I probably could have done better but it was an interesting job and I made a living."
Wendell was a strong supporter of his home community and was an outstanding long-ball hitting first baseman with several Debert Comets championship softball teams.
Randy had his own memories from youth, which tied in with the store.
"As a kid, during the latter 1960s, people would come in the store and hand over a list," Randy said. "There were two large counters and very little space. We would go around and pick out the customer's groceries for them. In the middle of the floor stood an old wood stove where Russ Totten, Johnny Murphy and some of the older guys would gather. Especially in the winter time, around that red-hot stove, there were some red-hot stories told."
Randy said he never really thought of ever owning the store back then.
"My interest in the grocery business developed later," he said. "I've enjoyed the certain part of physical labour involved. It's a challenge running a country grocery store these days, but overall we've had some loyal customers which I appreciate. Besides general groceries, we offer fresh meat and produce, we have a takeout pizza counter, video rentals and ice cream is popular with the young people. We carry on an old tradition in that we still offer penny candy."
Randy said his youngest daughter Carlie, 13, is a fourth generation Barnhill to work in the store.
"Sometimes Carlie helps make pizza," he said. "Carlie fills the pop cooler and does odd jobs. Three of my four daughters have helped in the store. So has my wife Sonya, who is really a school teacher. Nephews, nieces and other relatives have worked in the store as well."
Randy has come to know his own community well through his business involvement.
Besides having served on the Debert Community Association, Randy has been a member of the Debert Fire Brigade for 30 years. He continues to support a number of community groups while trying to give to important charities.
"I don't know where we stand among the longest family operated grocery stores in Nova Scotia," Randy said. "But we must be right up there somewhere near the top of the list."
TAGLINE: Lyle Carter's column appears every Tuesday in the Truro Daily News. If you have a column idea, contact him at 673-2857.