Listening in as Tommy and Joanne Perry describe their store’s 79-year history and focusing on the 32 years that they’ve operated it, Carter Morrissey remarks, “I really don’t think I’m ever going to forget it.”
Keeping the history alive is important, he notes.
Morrissey has been working alongside Tommy and Joanne at Eugene’ General Store on Church Street, Tignish for the last three weeks, learning the ropes as he prepares to take over as store manager this Friday, Feb. 2.
Morrissey’s rise to store manager coincides with his father, Joey, taking over ownership of the store.
The Perrys will close the store early on Feb. 1 to do a final inventory count. When it re-opens, as usual on Fri., Feb. 2, the Morrisseys will be owner-operators.
A Bernard family opened a convenience store and tinsmith shop there in 1939.
Tommy’s parents, Eugene and Anne Marie Perry, took over the operation of the store in 1948, renting the building for three years before purchasing the property. They lived above the store, raising their nine children there.
They sold the business in 1976. Ten years and two owners later, newlyweds Tommy and Joanne Perry took ownership of the store.
Because Tommy and Joanne were still employed in Toronto, his parents put their retirement on pause for five months until they made it to P.E.I.
It was Joanne who approached her father-in-law about renaming the store, ‘Eugene’s.’
“Every button came off his shirt; his chest came out that big,” Tommy described his father’s reaction.
Carter Morrissey said his family doesn’t plan to change the name. Instead, he’s soaking up and embracing the store’s history. He’s proud the store is part of the day’s routine for many residents of the community.
“As soon as they see them walking in the door, (staff) know that person is getting a pack of cigarettes, a newspaper and a small single-single,” he gave a ‘for-instance’ description of the staff’s knowledge.
“This community has got to be the best in the world for supporting you,” Tommy said in describing the store’s success. He’s confident the Morrisseys will discover that, too.
Joanne said she’s flattered that area residents expressed interest in buying their store. A few people, including Joey Morrissey, told them to keep them in mind if they ever contemplated selling. They made their decision last summer.
“I said, ‘Dad, we’re not losing this.’ I think I was the one who was pushing,” Carter described the response. He recently gave up an engineer’s position at Tignish Fisheries to learn the ropes of retail.
Carter has found a way to fit right in. He bought a pair of red suspenders, something that has been part of Tommy’s attire for years.
“If he keeps hanging around the meat slicer he will fill them up, too,” chuckled Tommy.
At 26 years of age, Carter is the same age Joanne was when she moved from a job in the Eaton Centre’s Toronto buying office to help run the convenience store.
Joanne say they’ve accomplished their hopes and dreams with the store.
“Thirty-two years later we have 19 or 20 staff right now. I’m very proud to say, we made this, it’s a landmark, I think. It’s a really big chunk of our community and now that someone fresh and young, such as Carter, is going to come in: Well he’s got dreams and ideas and opportunity.”
The life of a rural store
Staff at Eugene’s General Store have taken calls from people across the country looking for information about Tignish.
“You’re a general store; we just figured you knew what’s going on around the community,” Tommy Perry generalized their reason for calling. They have a point, he admits.
During storms they get calls asking whether the Co-op or the Credit Union is open, and some call because they heard the church bells ring. “Who died?” they’ll ask.
Joanne described how, during a snowstorm and blackout a couple years ago, a staff member walked to the store and Tommy arrived there by tractor. Soon there were several tractors, snowmobiles and a horse and sleigh out front. “Everyone was knowing we were here.”
The store has a busy meat department and that business really ramps up during the summer months. Summer residents sometimes call before arriving back in P.E.I., just to get their meat orders ready.
Steaks, spare ribs, salted neck bones and bologna are some of the popular meat counter items.
The store does a booming lottery ticket sales business and carries a wide line of grocery items.
The business also has a coffee drive thru where staff know in advance what most customers will order. Tommy said he was in early one morning fixing a cash register when the attendant said, ‘Oh, he wants a hot chocolate, too.’
Looking out, he saw no one at the window. The attendant explained a particular customer toots as he rounds the corner. The second toot means he wants a hot chocolate in addition to his coffee.
Providing treats for the dogs in the vehicles has also been good for business, Tommy admits, as some customers tell him their dogs freak out if it looks like they’re bypassing the drive-thru.