A small community store owned for 96 years by three generations of the same family is set to close.
Randy Barnhill made the bittersweet decision to close Barnhill’s Superette, and it will see its last day of operation on Aug. 31. The decision, he said, was made on several reasons, but a few keys ones.
“My father, he’s 89 years old, and he’s not well,” he said, of his dad, Wendell, who owned the store from 1961 to 1983. “I’d like to spend some more time with him.”
It was back in 1921 when Barnhill’s grandfather, Homer, first owned the business. Wendell took over in 1961, with Barnhill coming in in 1983.
“I can remember pumping gas for about a penny a gallon,” said Barnhill. “I was probably about six at the time. It’s was your typical old-fashioned store.”
When Barnhill was a young boy, the store sold numerous items, from rubber boots to molasses and canned beans.
“It was sort of like Little House on the Prairie, and it stayed that way until 1970 when my dad converted it to self-serve.”
The gas pumps were removed three decades ago.
“When I grew up, the village was about half the size now, but there were six stores, four with gas pumps. Now, you can’t buy gas here,” he said. “Things have changed so much in the retail industry, even in the last 15 years.”
Barnhill said places, such as Truro, have grown. In Truro, there are two Sobeys grocery stores, along with a large Superstore. He said people also have the option of buying at Walmart, Giant Tiger, and even pharmacies now.
“And they don’t give it a second thought to jump in the vehicle and go to Dartmouth Crossing.”
To Barnhill, the retail choices now available are almost to the point of being over-serviced.
But still, making the decision to close the business was a bittersweet one, especially since he’s worked seven days a week for as long as he can remember.
“It all started with Sunday shopping,” he said. “We were never open on Sundays until we were almost forced to.”
Over the years, Barnhill said he’s been lucky to have a great staff behind him, saying they’ve been “absolutely fabulous” to work with.
He said he will miss the staff and the customers when the doors close.
“I’ll miss the daily contact – sometimes people are in two, three times a day – and you always hear the local gossip,” he smiled.
“Years ago, before the store was converted, there was a pot belly stove near the front door. You’d hear wild stories from the old timers – hunters, fishers…and the fish would get bigger every time they told the story.”
While Barnhill attended college, his father still owned the business. Following graduation, Barnhill worked in eight different banks over a span of seven-and-a-half years. At the time, his mother – a school teacher – was getting close to retirement, and her health was declining. Wendell wanted to spend more time with his wife, and approached Barnhill about continuing on with the business.
“I mulled it over for a week or two, and it was at a good time.”
Barnhill’s two daughters were starting school, so each had time to have their grandmother teach them before she retired.
“It was an easier decision to buy the business than to close it down. It was something that had been a part of me for 34 years. Taking it over was always in the back of my mind. The option was there, but I wasn’t set on it. But I knew the life.”
It was in 1996 when Barnhill made the biggest change to the business in his time – he added a Pizza Partito franchise.
“After the first week, it was absolutely nuts. My wife and I would be here until midnight making dough, or we’d run out of dough the following day. It was just so busy. That is what’s made the business survive this long,” he said. “It was a great addition to the store.”
Over the weeks while deciding on the store’s future, Barnhill said he was thinking of his family. A daughter is starting university in the fall, and he said they’ve never had a summer vacation together. The last family trip was four years ago. His last breakfast spent with his family? Christmas morning.
“It’s the little things, looking back…you don’t get to reflect on the little things other people take for granted.”
Upon announcing the closure, Barnhill said the encouragement and congratulations he’s been receiving has been great. The store will officially close at 5 p.m. on Aug. 30. Depending on what product is left, the store will be open from noon to 5 p.m. on weekdays from Sept. 5 to 15 (or until supplies last) for an inventory reduction sale.