“When I got off the bus after school, I ran over to take a look at the foundation and it was pretty exciting to a six year-old.”
MacLane also remembers walking around the frame of the building with his grandfather, George Jenkins.
“It was 25 years ago and Papa’s plan was to have a meat market, but over time it became more of a general store with the bakery added and then the restaurant.”
Today, Crossroads Country Market draws the locals for convenience, but people travel further for its oatcakes, cinnamon rolls and breads, as well as its fishing and hunting gear. It is also one of the few rural spots where people can get breakfast or a cup of coffee while lingering to talk about the day’s news.
“It is more often politics than sports among the regulars. People talk politics and business here every day. I was never very interested in politics, but between listening to what customers have to say and seeing how a small business can be affected, I’m definitely tuned in to this election,” said MacLane.
While growing up, he enjoyed any opportunity to hang out at the market.
“You’ll take over the Thorburn IGA when you grow up,” MacLane remembers his grandfather telling him.
He never took that too seriously and when he finished high school, he headed north and west to work.
“I wanted to get away from Nova Scotia and see something different. At 19, I took a job in Resolute Bay in Nunavut and that certainly wasn’t like anything I was ever used to.”
The Alberta oilfields soon beckoned and when the demand for workers was high, it was not hard to get specialized training on site, MacLane said.
“I started working in Alberta in 2004. The pay was pretty good, I liked the fast pace of things and the Alberta lifestyle was very attractive for a while.”
When MacLane and his wife, who was born in Fort McMurray and raised in Ontario, had their first son in Sylvan Valley, outside Red Deer, he started to think about moving back to Nova Scotia.
“By then the idea of moving home really appealed to me, but what was I going to do there? There is an entrepreneurial spirit on both sides of my family, so I started thinking in terms of what kind of business I could start up. I talked about it with some friends, but I didn’t come up with a solid idea.”
In the meantime, a friend from home returned to Alberta with some news.
“He’d been in to the store, talking to Papa who said it was getting time for him to retire. With working away, I didn’t realize Papa was ready to slow down yet. ”
MacLane called his grandfather and they started to talk about the business.
“My grandfather wanted the business to stay in the family. I was lucky to have a huge amount of family support and that allowed me to gradually take over and buy the business. For the first while, I was still going back to Alberta to work the busy months. I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I started my own business.”
He considers his staff to be his other lucky break.
“We’ve got staff people who are great to work with and who want to give customers great service. They understand we have to go the extra mile to get people to come the extra mile.”
A small business owner has to be able to handle all aspects of the business, so MacLane had to learn his way around the kitchen and turn his hand to bread making.
“When we’re short-staffed in the bakery, I bake bread. I have food safety training, but I’m not formally trained as a baker. I learned from mothers and grandmothers who bake bread for their families and that’s the bread our customers want.”
MacLane is also learning that running a small business requires constant innovation.
“We don’t want to change what brings people in the door now, but we have to make other changes to bring more people in. There’s definitely some trial and error that goes with this job.”
He is already thinking a nice show of lights and Christmas decorations may convince customers to come to Thorburn for their Christmas baking and a bit of gift shopping.
“I worked across Canada and I had some good years in Alberta, but I’m where I want to be right now. Most of my friends would work home if they had the chance, so I’m happy to see groups talking about how to bring people back. Having a general store in the country isn’t the easiest way to make a living, but I like working for myself and we’ve got two sons now, aged five and three, so we have to make this work.”
Rosalie MacEachern is a Stellarton resident and freelance writer who seeks out people who work behind the scenes on hobbies or jobs that they love the most. If you have someone you think she should profile in an upcoming article, she can be reached at email@example.com