When the public is through seeing the thousands of minerals and rocks on display at the Crystal Cave Mineral Exhibit in South River, their visit continues right next door when they enter the Crystal Retail Shoppe.
The mineral exhibit and retail portion occupy the same building, but where Julia and John Breckenridge are the mineral exhibit owners, friends and business partners Braelyn Rose and James Toth own and operate the retail portion.
Almost all of what the public sees in the retail half was designed and created by Rose.
This includes the large fairy village display, a throne, a burning section, the greenery around the outlet and even the cabinets.
This is the fifth year of operation for the Crystal Retail Shoppe and its appearance today is a far cry from the original look.
The exhibit and retail portion are situated in a former lumber yard building and when the Breckenridges bought the property in order to create an exhibit for their massive rock collection, Julia Breckenridge talked to Rose about opening a business in the other half of the building.
“She knew I wanted to open my own crystal shop but at the time I had no idea it would eventually be here because (the building) looked so bad,” recalled Rose.
“I first thought no way, I can't see it.”
That was just more than five years ago.
Then one morning, while Rose was in the building, she turned a corner and had a vision of what she could create in the space, including the fairy village she built.
Rose has known the Breckenridges for about 15 years and met them through Toth.
Toth is 46 and met the Breckenridges when he was five and living in Toronto.
Toth was with his mother walking their dog in a downtown Toronto park where they happened to meet Julia Breckenridge who was also walking her dog.
“They met at a park, became fast friends and stayed in contact over the years,” Toth said.
Toth says part of that remaining in contact involved coming to visit the Breckenridges regularly at their cabin in the woods they bought in Sundridge about 35 years ago.
“We came up as kids and fell in love with the area,” recalled Toth.
Toth applauds John Breckenridge for his vision on where to locate the mineral exhibit which made the exhibit and retail shop all possible.
The former lumber yard building they now all operate out of had already been dormant for three years when the Breckenridges bought it.
“When I first saw this place it was in disarray and the basement was flooded,” Toth said.
“John's vision was incredible and that's where it all started.”
Toth is a professional photographer.
Quite a number of his prints depicting nature and wildlife are on sale at the shop.
Before making the move north, Toth operated a print shop in Toronto and in addition to his photography he was also involved in artwork.
Over the years Toth transferred his responsibilities to the Sundridge area where he now lives and then walked away from his business after the summer of 2018 when he saw the potential the old lumber yard building had.
“I felt comfortable severing ties with the Toronto business and came in fulltime on board to help run this operation,” Toth said
In addition to having his photography prints on site, Toth is also the property manager for the entire site which also includes several former storage buildings which have been repurposed to create an artisan village.
The village will be in full swing for the tourist season by the Victoria Day long weekend and Toth says the site attracts artisans from Nipissing District and Parry Sound District.
The long weekend is also when the entire property sees the start of numerous activities for the public.
For example. on June 18 and 19 there's a Fairy Fest taking place.
“We're going to have a photo booth with props where you can put on fairy costumes and it's all free,” Rose said.
“But we'd also like it if people can come in their own fairy costumes.”
The public can see what the artists have on the go in the Artisan Village and there will also be a food truck on site which Rose says will be selling fairy food, cup cakes and funnel cakes to name some of the food varieties.
Rose said they did something similar to the Fairy Fest but with a Halloween theme last October and it was well received with hundreds of people showing up.
In addition to Rose and Toth, the retail shop employs two people full-time and then adds three more workers during the summer to accommodate the large number of tourists who come from across Ontario to visit the mineral exhibit and the retail outlet.
Both Toth and Rose have no regrets with the decisions they made to operate the retail shop and add they are fulfilling a passion.
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Bay Nugget