The new sign announcing “Crooked Creek Convenience Store” was the first clue that the little Kwik-Way convenience store had a new owner. The second was a smaller sign, “Gluten-free products available.” Now this was definitely new.
When I entered the store, I first saw what I had expected – milk, soft drinks, fireworks and candy. But then I saw organic milk and soy milk in the cooler, local beef in the freezer and even goosetongue greens. On the counter, there was a petition about a moratorium on seismic testing for fracking.
Let me back up... Crooked Creek Convenience is in the Village of Riverside-Albert, New Brunswick. The store is about halfway between Moncton and Alma. There aren’t many farmers in the area. The few organic growers around sell their products at the farmers’ markets, next to fudge, squares and pies. Gluten-free, organic, soy and even local are not what you expect around here, particularly in a convenience store with a retail space of only 25 by 65 feet.
“I want the place to have a country feeling,” says the owner, Lindsay Butland. I’m surprised to realize a young woman has bought the store. When many of her peers are leaving the area to move to Toronto or the oil patch, Butland works to strengthen her ties to the community. She will celebrate the second anniversary of owning Crooked Creek Convenience in November 2013.
The store is an economically depressed area of the province: in June 2013, the area’s unemployment rate was 16.5%. The idea that anyone would buy a store in the area is surprising; the fact that it was a 23-year-old woman is remarkable. The best part is that the store has become successful.
Lindsay Butland appreciates the connection between a business and a rural community. She doesn’t feel that the local people are just customers – they are her family, her friends, and her community. In the same way that they support the store, the store supports the village and surrounding area.
On a sunny day in June, all the students of Riverside Consolidated School stand in line on the lawn next to the store. They sing along with the Grade 3-4 teacher as they wait for Lindsey Butland to serve them ice-cream.
A few minutes earlier, the students sat on the store’s deck and dooryard while a teacher read a book aloud. They were gathered there for the opening of the Little Free Library (see box).
Butland thought the library would fit in well with the store. “I noticed a lot of people come here when the bookmobile is here. I thought it would be good to have books here at other times.” The bookmobile stops outside the store for a half hour once every three weeks.
For the Little Free Library’s opening, all 50 students of Riverside Consolidated walked a kilometre from the school to the store.
“We want to support the store,” says the school principal, Barry Snider, “because Lindsay has been good to us. She raised money for the school after digital cameras and other high-tech equipment were stolen.”
“I felt badly for the kids,” Butland says. “They had raised the money themselves through bottle drives and penny drives and their own hard work. So I started to raise money in the store through 50/50 draws. It wasn’t much for people to give, just a dollar here and there, but it was something to help the kids and the community.”
Besides fundraising for many community groups, the check-out at Crooked Creek serves as a venue to learn about protests against fracking. Butland provides leaflets about the environmental consequences of fracking and posts notices about upcoming events. Often there is a petition on the counter asking the New Brunswick government for a moratorium on shale gas development.
“I love fishing, hunting and living off the land,” she adds. “And fracking is so much the opposite of all that. It can destroy our environment.
“I don’t push my views on anyone. I just print off the facts and let them decide for themselves.” She also has three copies of the Gasland DVD, which she lends out for free.
“My mother says I should keep my views on the down-low, but I think the more noise I can make, the more noise we can all make. We have to do something. The government and oil companies are forcing this down our throats.
“I really enjoy Albert County the way it is,” says Butland. “I feel we should be protecting the land and water for the next generation.”
Lindsay Butland has lived almost all her life in Albert County. Before buying the store, she worked on the lobster boats but suffered from seasickness. She wanted to find another way to make a living but still stay in the area. She had already worked in a couple of convenience stores and thought that maybe this was the business for her.
Butland approached the former owner of the corner store and asked if he was willing to sell – he was. Not only that, he had put the store on the market just the day before. Timing was on her side but financing was another story. For a young woman with no money to her name and little experience, financing was a challenge. The former owner was patient, she said, and waited until she could find the money. After several months, Butland, then 23 years old, owned the store.
Butland’s family supports the business in many ways. Her mother helps with the bookkeeping and her sister works at the till. Her grandmother plants flowers around the deck and picnic tables. Her father and uncles have helped with the renovations. Most importantly, Butland’s mother bought the parcel of the land adjoining the store and, in doing so, reduced the sale price of the store.
Joanne Butland has started a new business in a building next to her daughter’s store. She runs Crooked Creek Adventures, a kayak, canoe and bike rental. The business takes advantage of the location – Crooked Creek alongside the store and the TransCanada Trail is across the road. Joanne’s business brings more people to the store.
Lindsay Butland has made a number of changes, which should help the economic viability of the Crooked Creek Convenience but also help the community. For example, she added a deck with a ramp “to make it easier for the older clients especially in the winter.”
She has also added a coffee station. The store now has ‘regulars’ who stand inside or outside on the deck to talk about the community. She also started selling hunting and fishing licenses, and worms for bait. She has expanded the hours of the store, particularly during the beginning of deer and duck season, and has hired three staff.
Unlike many convenience stores, Crooked Creek has local food for sale. The freezer contains frozen lobster and scallops from Alma next to beef and pork from the local butcher, Arnold Glendenning of ANC Meats.
“People love the meat, especially the bacon,” Butland says. “And Arnold labels the packages so people know where it’s from.”
Butland also sells fiddleheads, goosetongue greens and other seasonal delicacies. She wants to sell more local vegetables but needs to find a farmer who can provide a consistent supply. With every product she buys from a local producer, she helps another local business.
In trying to meet the needs of the whole community, Butland brings in organic milk, soymilk, lactose-free milk and gluten-free products once she recognizes a need for these.
“There’s not much to choose from around here if you can’t have gluten,” she says. “So I carry some products. It means a lot to people when I bring in special orders.
“I get to help people,” she adds, “These little things make the job worthwhile. And I like the challenge of the business.”
While we talk, a customer comes in and says, “It’s really nice to see so many people here.” I agree.
Janet Wallace likes to support small businesses near her home in Albert County, New Brunswick. www.janetwallace.ca
“It is the smallest library that you will ever visit,” reads the press release for the opening of the library in Riverside-Albert. “It looks like a birdhouse, but when you look inside you will find a variety of books for readers of all ages.”
The Little Free Library is simply a collection of books people can borrow on their own terms. The name may say ‘little’ but the library is actually tiny; it’s just a shelf of twenty to thirty books in a glass-fronted box.
There are no library cards, due dates or late fees. Part of an international program, all Little Free Libraries are in public places, usually outside, and accessible 24 hours a day. The libraries are placed in areas that are not well served by regional library programs.
Readers can pick up books and simply return them whenever they are finished reading. Or people can take a book from the library and donate another book. Volunteers monitor the collection to ensure the collection always contains books for all ages.
As for concerns over theft, “how can you steal a free book?” says Carole Murphy, Community Engagement Coordinator, Anglophone East School District. Vandalism is another issue that has been raised, but supporters of the Little Free Library hope that the location’s highly visible location will help keep it safe.
The Riverside-Albert Little Free Library is supported by the Anglophone East School District of New Brunswick. It is the seventh Little Free Library to open in Atlantic Canada. For more information and to see a map of the libraries, visit www.littlefreelibrary.org.