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Izzard’s store remains open for business after more than 50 years

NEW GLASGOW – Fifty years ago, a man was canvassing the town of New Glasgow, in the hopes that somebody, anybody, would help him out while he was down on his luck.

Jim Izzard stands in Izzard’s Grocery, a small corner store started by his parents, Jim and Isabel, more than 50 years ago, which he now runs. Once a booming business, it now serves as a pastime for Jim. AMANDA JESS – THE NEWS 

He had four children, and nothing to feed them.

The man, who happened to be white, lived on Merigomish Road. He stopped at Izzard’s Grocery off of Vale Road, and asked the black owner – Jim Izzard – if he’d help, despite the fact that they didn’t know each other and he couldn’t pay.

Izzard provided him with $200 worth of groceries, after the man asked for $100 and, in return, was given a promise that his kindness wouldn’t be forgotten.

One year later, he came back.

Jim Izzard didn’t recognize him – the man, a bit worse for wear when they first met, was now dressed up.

Izzard asked, “What can I do for you?”

The reply? “It’s not what you can do for me. It’s what you have done.”

The man explained that he had lost his job, his family had been starving, and his wife was pregnant. He hadn’t expected a black man would help a white man out, he told Izzard.

He paid him $250, and the family never saw him again.

That’s according to Jim Izzard – the son, of the same name – and his memory.

“Tears come right to my eyes,” he said as he was telling the story, sharing memories of the small business that’s still in operation, 52 years later.

Once a booming fish and chip joint, a social gathering spot opening at 7 a.m., sometimes still offering food orders until 3 a.m., the store is now primarily grocery items, open five day a week, and is a pastime for Izzard.

The 67-year-old lives next door to the business, one of the oldest privately owned grocery stores in the area, and spends much of his time there, using it as more of a hobby these days.

“Back then, it was a business and you made a living off of it. That’s what they did,” he said of his parents.

In its prime, there were at least two other businesses in the Vale Road area, primarily an African Nova Scotian community at the time.

The business – which was his father’s idea – was mostly run by Jim’s mother, Isabel, he said, with his father at TrentonWorks, helping when he got home.

Neither one had much education, Jim said, only up to Grade 7 for his father, but managed to raise a family from the income, and own several properties.

“They struggled, but they made it,” he said, noting that they had some help with set-up in the beginning.

Jim would also help when he got home from school, beginning work there when he was 15, and, when he was older, in between shifts at TrentonWorks.

The neighbourhood wasn’t as developed, with cow pastures behind the store, and a meal was $5.

Children would come to the store for candy, and use the steps of the store in their games of hide and seek with kids, up to 20, some coming from as far away as the west side, playing until midnight.

Those kids, now grown up, sometimes come back to check in.

“They always want to know if the store is still here. It kinda brings tears to your eyes when you think about it.”

The decline in business and changeover to mostly grocery was gradual, with Jim noting the increase in fast food, and longer hours at the mall.

Despite changes, they’ve been able to keep it running because they’ve always kept it in the family, Jim said, never needing to pay anyone.

Now his grandchildren, in their 20s, help him out, but he doesn’t expect them to take it over.

And he doesn’t expect to be running it for another 52 years, he joked.

Cherry Paris, who recently spoke at the library about African heritage in the area, along with historian John Ashton, lives near the store, and said, “It’s interesting. It’s a small, little community area, yet they’re able to make a go. It speaks well of it that it’s still open.”

It became his store five years ago after his mother developed Alzheimer’s.

He was already off work, after he got injured at work from a train wheel falling on him, affecting his nervous system and developing arthritis.  

Though business is slow now – seeing a few children in the morning grabbing some snacks for the bus, locals picking up a few convenience items, visitors dropping by for a story, and travellers stopping in – it’s something Jim will continue until he can’t anymore.

“I like it. I enjoy it, sitting down and talking to people like you. Sometimes good old stories come out of people, hardships. Even the milkman comes in and talks for a while,” he said, adding that it’s a place for information, and compares it to Cheers.

“Everybody knows my name. Everybody knows Jim. People come up here looking for something, they go to Izzard’s store.”

On Twitter: @NGNewsAmanda

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