A place for the curious connoisseur and all who have magic in their hearts…
September 6, 2016
The General is an idea whose time has come. It’s not surprising, really, it’s been stewing in the ether for decades as owners Joanne Hansen and Trish Stenson come, full circle, back to the things that matter. All the best people do, really—those renegades who change the very fabric of our community.
Trish grew up in the city and Jo in the country. Jo was born and raised on a dairy farm in Central Alberta, Canada while city girl Trish grew up in post war Nottingham, England. Trish remembers her grandfather’s General Store, how the neighbours would gather around swapping stories while the children spent hours agonizing over the which sweets to buy. As with all things, it’s about how it made you feel; the gathering place, the warmth of community and (perhaps most importantly) a sense of belonging.
In some ways, we are all going full circle back to that post war era where food was locally sourced and organic and everyone from the fishmonger to the farmer were makers, doers and small business proprietors. Thanks to the internet, more and more people are moving out to the fringes, living life on their own terms and making things they can sell online.
The makers are returning… as are the apothecaries, carpenters, blacksmiths, weavers, spinners and even the old pickle barrel is making a comeback (it’s all about those probiotics, baby!)
While most retailers start with such dull minutia as products, profit margins and mark-ups, the dames of the General store begin at a far more interesting place: “For me, it’s about the people, about the connections…” says Joanne as we sit in the shade of her screened porch, looking out over the rolling hills of Northumberland. “It’s a combination of creative and social, where the General is the conduit, the facilitator. We want to be a place where creators and makers can show their wares and where members of the community can come in and feel at home, meet the makers and interact with the artists.
Trish, a social worker by profession, echoes this; “My whole world has basically been community focused. I always start with people, with respect, and evolve from there. I’ve always had an indelible belief in people’s ability to create as they need to. It’s seeking a connection with the artist, having a laugh with customers, talking to the food makers—it’s a relationship-based thing.”
The General is also about well chosen products, it’s about artisans creating amazing things and about makers providing artisanal goods. Joanne, a costume designer who has worked on TV and film, calls this the “blurring of the line between art and life.” A way to enjoy the things we need while respecting and loving the creative input that makes many these goods unique.
It’s this authentic passion, this desire to really get into the deep end of the pool that make this venture so enticing. Trish and Jo have gone to great lengths to source independent Canadian and local makers, who produce hand-made products. They have focused on Canadian and home grown as much as possible.
“We want things that are not mass-produced, they must be unique so we lean to the artisanal, to organic materials and small producers. There’s a shift in the way people are living—to independence, to making things, to creativity and we want to be part of that,” says Trish. “It’s really about experimentation. About the look and feel of the products… how do people respond to them? What’s the story behind them? We want to know the stories and we want to share them.”
“We’re not product-based in the sense of traditional retail, we’re all about the makers, about the customers and (mostly) about fun!” says Trish. “The sense of having community, the sense of people feeling like they belong, a place where people can just ‘be’ in the world. A space where they can be themselves—that’s really is what we are trying to create with The General”.