Our Favourite General Stores Across the West
A new generation of shopkeepers pay homage to the multi-purpose stores that once dominated Canadian towns.
In the recent film, Maudie, a pivotal scene takes place inside the town’s general store. The title character, Nova Scotian folk painter Maud Lewis, overhears a local fisherman asking to post an advertisement for a live-in housekeeper, and she quickly sees a ticket out of her present circumstances. The store itself, whitewashed, spartan, serves as the town’s de facto community centre, post office, hardware store and grocery, stocking essential household goods, pantry staples, and later in the film, Lewis’s own brilliantly painted cards. How else would the two disparate characters have connected if not at the only store in town?
Across the West, and beyond, a new generation of shopkeepers have been drawn to the vital role such stores once played as purveyors of well-made, honest goods. Their stores, typically found in character buildings in the oldest areas of town, offer singular inventories of locally made items but have a common devotion to all things wood, ceramic, enamel and linen (so much linen!). More common ground: they are masterful at merchandizing and Instagram. Keeping house has never looked so appealing.
Note to holiday shoppers: gift ideas abound here. Each of the general stores below have online stores and offer shipping across Canada.
Hold General Store, Victoria
Marla Ebell opened Hold General last year, but it looks as if it were the century-old building’s original tenant. The shop’s beautifully simple wooden display tables and benches were made by Ebell’s handy father and are moved to the centre of the room for long-table dinners hosted throughout the year. Along with minimalist-friendly basic goods, including pottery by locals Gwen Howey and Malene Foyd, Ebell sells fresh produce from her grandparents’ certified-organic farm. Building community and raising the profile of her suppliers is a stated goal, as Ebell told us recently: “I think people are trying to connect to the simplicity of well-made basics. With a general store, I can tell the full story, from maker to finished item.” Look for her new line of apothecary goods developed with Boreal Folk.
Old Faithful Shop, Vancouver
Co-founder Walter Manning comes from a long line of shopkeepers: his maternal and paternal grandparents and great-grandparents owned general stores. Old Faithful carries on the family tradition in a historic Gastown shop blessed with walls of exposed brick and beautiful windows. In addition to household basics, tools, stationery and planters, there’s an out-of-the-ordinary mix of lifestyle books, cookbooks, and Haruki Murakami titles (because, of course). Also noteworthy is the shop’s new lighting collection and recently added furniture from the Danish line Skagerak.
7e7 Atelier St. George, Vancouver
The Larsen family of businesses defies easy classification. There’s, Le Marché St. George, the atmospheric neighbourhood café and occasional venue to communal dinners and pop-ups. And then there’s 7e7 Atelier St. George, which branched out of the original venue. Here, a general store-meets artist’s-studio is shared with fashion designer Hajnalka Mandula, leading to an eclectic, global and tactile mix of considered wares. Janaki Larsen’s ceramics, in the form of dishware, vases, vessels and lighting, are a major draw and sell out quickly. Following the shop’s Instagram feed, @7e7__atelierstgeorge, is the best way to catch new arrivals to the online store before they’re gone.
Husband and wife team Joël and Danielle Cyr started their business on a quest to “elevate the everyday.” Practicality and sustainability are an important part of the philosophy, too: beeswax food wraps replace plastic wrap; small cloth bulk bags sourced from Quebec eliminate single-use plastic in the produce section. Wire baskets, wooden brooms, slim metal towel bars, enamel waste bins—the entire inventory is pretty enough to be left out in plain view.