January 22, 2020

By JESSICA MARTIN

It’s not similar to most stores college students walk into.In fact, the pitchforks hanging on the wall and homemade toboggans parked out front are just a few of the things that make the store different from modern shopping.

Strolling through the front doors of the 150-year-old building feels like taking a stroll back in time. The friendly eyes and genuine smiles welcome you immediately and fill you with a sense of belonging.

The chime rings as you step inside and although you might feel like you belong, you probably don’t look like you do. The Mennonite workers move swiftly around the store, their floor-length dresses blowing gently behind them and hair tucked neatly up in bonnets.

The Wallenstein General Store, located in a town of the same name 20 minutes northwest of Waterloo, is exactly how you would imagine an old-fashioned general store to be.

“From bulk food to farm boots, from wrenches to farm fences,” is their motto, and rightfully so. Groceries, hardware, books, cleaning supplies, toys, dishes and more line the shelves in the tiny store located at the only intersection in the tiny town.

Alice Martin, co-owner of the store since 1990, joked around about renovations to the old building.

“I’m going to build out this way and that way and to the sky. We’ll be the metropolitan Wallenstein General Store,” she said with a deep, hearty laugh. “But no, we can’t do that because it’s on a corner and the property isn’t big enough. We’d have to buy the next property and build another store and then we’d lose our old time value. It would definitely change and it wouldn’t be good.”

The store was first built in 1861 for a cost of $600 and was exclusively used as a hotel. When Wallenstein saw increased activity in 1906 after the railway line from Guelph to Goderich was routed through the village, the hotel turned into a store and post office.  The train was then able to bring in supplies that were needed and offered a form of transportation other than horse and buggy.

The store has had continual, steady business ever since then. Martin walks behind the counter and starts flipping through small pieces of paper, or what locals know as charge cards.

“We have about 200-300 people who pay by charge cards,” she said. “These are mainly local people who just pay their bill at the end of every two months.”

The locals aren’t the only people who come to the store. Martin said a lot of tourists pay a visit because it’s “not similar to any other in the area.”  Most tourists come in the summer and fall, which is also when the peach season is in full bloom. Selling about 2,000 bushels of peaches each year, the cashiers never have a dull moment.

“It gets busy around here but I love it. I love the variety of people we serve, taking care of customers and managing and ordering products,” she said. A mischievous twinkle comes to her eye as she laughs and adds, “and ordering the people around too.”

Walking out of the store, the sweet smell of crisp country air mixed with the pungent odour of freshly spread manure delight your senses and combine with the aura of the 150-year-old building to complete your trip into the past.

Snapping back to the present, your next stop is most likely Walmart or the mall.