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Family business: Cornish’s Variety celebrating 100 years


TRENTON - If Rene Cornish’s grandmother was here today, he thinks she’d be delighted that the store she started 100 years ago is still operating.

“She’d be obviously flabbergasted with the changes. I think she’d be pleased that it still exists,” said the owner of Cornish’s Variety.

Melania Cornish started the store in 1916, selling tea, canned sardines and chicken, molasses, apples, cheese and kerosene to the residents of Trenton while her husband John worked at the Nova Scotia Steel and Coal Company.

Rene said his grandmother was a Russian immigrant who didn’t speak much English.

“My Dad related stories of people trying to tell her what they wanted,” he said, with confusion often ensuing as she learned a new language.

Detecting a need for the store, she didn’t let language barriers get in her way.

“She was a very astute business lady,” he said.

At the time, Rene said Trenton had a corner store every three blocks or so, with each store specializing in different items.

“People would develop a favourite place to go to get apples – they’d go somewhere else to get chicken,” he said, adding that most people walked everywhere they had to go.

“Not everybody had everything. You had to go to two to three shops to get everything on your grocery list.”

Always located at the same site on Main Street, the original building was destroyed by fire in 1949.

For about 25 years, Rene’s father Nick made popsicles in a factory at the store, with the factory downstairs and the store on the second level.

His wife Edna managed the popsicle plant, where the eight different flavours were made from scratch, with bags hand-printed on site. Rene said a lot of homes wouldn’t have had a freezer in the 1940s, so Nick invested in the machinery and built a freezer to make the frozen treats.

Rene grew up around the store, starting to work there “as soon as I could add,” with

his brother and two sisters also helping out when they were younger.

Rene’s uncle Bill took over the store from his parents and operated it until 1971 when a second fire gutted the store.

Displaced by bigger frozen novelty businesses, Nick had stopped making popsicles by then, and had been selling advertising. Rene said his uncle didn’t want to rebuild, so his father and his mother Edna constructed a new store with the same physical footprint as it has now.

Rene and his wife Mandy took over Cornish’s Variety from his parents in 2000, permitting them to retire.

He said for many years Rene and Mandy were the only employees, starting work at 2 a.m. and continuing until the store closed at 10 p.m. “It was very demanding in those days,” he said.

They would take turns napping, and sometimes would “get so foggy I couldn’t even make change,” he said. “There were days when I was so tired I would lay down on the floor behind the cash, and when the bell on the door rang I’d hop up and scare the customer to death,” he said with a bit of a chuckle.

Rene’s sister Joy Higgins and her husband Rob established a bakery at the store in the 1990s, and Mandy continues its operation, baking banana loaves, donuts, biscuits and cinnamon rolls. Cornish’s now employs three others, one of whom helps with the baking.

Along with standard convenience store items, they also roast their own meats for sandwiches sold there and sell hot pizza and burgers at lunchtime.

Rene attributes the store’s longevity to help from Northern Opportunities for Business Ltd., moderate prices and a loyal customer base. “People I went to school with, I’m now serving their grandchildren. It’s a real treat to see how loyal people have been over generations.”

It’s unusual for a business to go through three generations, and it’s also extraordinary that the store has lasted so long. “It’s very rare for any business to reach 100 years,” said Mandy.

Mike Hammoud, president of the Atlantic Convenience Stores Association, said Cornish’s is the only convenience store that he knows of that has reached the century milestone.

“That’s a pretty amazing accomplishment to be in business that long,” he said.

 

“She’d be obviously flabbergasted with the changes. I think she’d be pleased that it still exists,” said the owner of Cornish’s Variety.

Melania Cornish started the store in 1916, selling tea, canned sardines and chicken, molasses, apples, cheese and kerosene to the residents of Trenton while her husband John worked at the Nova Scotia Steel and Coal Company.

Rene said his grandmother was a Russian immigrant who didn’t speak much English.

“My Dad related stories of people trying to tell her what they wanted,” he said, with confusion often ensuing as she learned a new language.

Detecting a need for the store, she didn’t let language barriers get in her way.

“She was a very astute business lady,” he said.

At the time, Rene said Trenton had a corner store every three blocks or so, with each store specializing in different items.

“People would develop a favourite place to go to get apples – they’d go somewhere else to get chicken,” he said, adding that most people walked everywhere they had to go.

“Not everybody had everything. You had to go to two to three shops to get everything on your grocery list.”

Always located at the same site on Main Street, the original building was destroyed by fire in 1949.

For about 25 years, Rene’s father Nick made popsicles in a factory at the store, with the factory downstairs and the store on the second level.

His wife Edna managed the popsicle plant, where the eight different flavours were made from scratch, with bags hand-printed on site. Rene said a lot of homes wouldn’t have had a freezer in the 1940s, so Nick invested in the machinery and built a freezer to make the frozen treats.

Rene grew up around the store, starting to work there “as soon as I could add,” with

his brother and two sisters also helping out when they were younger.

Rene’s uncle Bill took over the store from his parents and operated it until 1971 when a second fire gutted the store.

Displaced by bigger frozen novelty businesses, Nick had stopped making popsicles by then, and had been selling advertising. Rene said his uncle didn’t want to rebuild, so his father and his mother Edna constructed a new store with the same physical footprint as it has now.

Rene and his wife Mandy took over Cornish’s Variety from his parents in 2000, permitting them to retire.

He said for many years Rene and Mandy were the only employees, starting work at 2 a.m. and continuing until the store closed at 10 p.m. “It was very demanding in those days,” he said.

They would take turns napping, and sometimes would “get so foggy I couldn’t even make change,” he said. “There were days when I was so tired I would lay down on the floor behind the cash, and when the bell on the door rang I’d hop up and scare the customer to death,” he said with a bit of a chuckle.

Rene’s sister Joy Higgins and her husband Rob established a bakery at the store in the 1990s, and Mandy continues its operation, baking banana loaves, donuts, biscuits and cinnamon rolls. Cornish’s now employs three others, one of whom helps with the baking.

Along with standard convenience store items, they also roast their own meats for sandwiches sold there and sell hot pizza and burgers at lunchtime.

Rene attributes the store’s longevity to help from Northern Opportunities for Business Ltd., moderate prices and a loyal customer base. “People I went to school with, I’m now serving their grandchildren. It’s a real treat to see how loyal people have been over generations.”

It’s unusual for a business to go through three generations, and it’s also extraordinary that the store has lasted so long. “It’s very rare for any business to reach 100 years,” said Mandy.

Mike Hammoud, president of the Atlantic Convenience Stores Association, said Cornish’s is the only convenience store that he knows of that has reached the century milestone.

“That’s a pretty amazing accomplishment to be in business that long,” he said.

 

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