Owners of historic store in Quebec village retire, raising concerns over its future

Patrice Dupont and Isabelle Caron bought J.H. Martin general store in 1988. Pictured together in fall 1988. They ran the store for 35 years until recently deciding to sell the store which has been in operation since 1884.  (Submitted by Patrice Dupont  - image credit)
Patrice Dupont and Isabelle Caron bought J.H. Martin general store in 1988. Pictured together in fall 1988. They ran the store for 35 years until recently deciding to sell the store which has been in operation since 1884. (Submitted by Patrice Dupont - image credit)

Patrice Dupont and Isabelle Caron were in their early 20s when they packed up their bags, quit their jobs and moved to Racine, a village 125 kilometres east of Montreal in Quebec's Eastern Townships.

What started out as a whim for the couple in 1988 after being unhappy in their jobs in Montreal, turned into a passion, says Dupont.

They decided to run their own business and bought the town's only general store, J.H. Martin.

"My father called me about the sale, because the owner passed away. So we made an offer… We didn't think very much about it. I was only 23 so we said we're gonna go for 10 years and after that we'll see how it goes. And we were there now for 35 years," said Dupont.

For over three decades the pair continued a century-old tradition in the town, offering locals in the Eastern Townships a place to buy necessities.

But this year the couple is retiring and the store went up for sale. Having already accepted an offer, Dupont says they hope the future owners will continue on with tradition.

Store dates back to 1800s

The contract for J.H. Martin dates back to 1884. Built in 1872, the store received its name from James Henry Martin, who took over the business in 1922, after several previous owners.

Dupont says the business used to sell hats, gloves and other goods. There was high demand since they lived right next to a railroad station, which has since closed down.

Submitted by Patrice Dupont
Submitted by Patrice Dupont

When they bought the store in 1988, and took over the age-old name as required under the contract, the building was in rough shape, says Dupont.

"It needed a little help and a lot of love because everything had to be built again," said Dupont, describing the dust, the uneven flooring and the shelving in need of repair.

"Things have changed a lot since 1988 when we bought the store here … Everything was in it and I mean some furniture … chainsaw oil, paint cans, but now it's more like a dépanneur, selling bread and milk."

General store is community space

When they first arrived, Dupont and Caron discovered the store was a gathering place for the town of 1,400 — with locals coming to smoke and play cards.

Submitted by Patrice Dupont
Submitted by Patrice Dupont

Nicolas Turcotte, a longtime customer and resident of Racine for 13 years, says the store has continued to be a fixture in the community.

"It's very useful to have some convenience items close by when we miss milk in the morning for the kids or have to make lunch quickly, or buy drinks," said Turcotte, adding that customers have become close to the owners over the years.

"In the old times we used to talk with people on the steps of the church but now we would think (the general store) is the central point where we get the news and the gossip and talk with everybody."

Turcotte says he was surprised to hear the couple was selling the store and worried that the next owners might not continue the business.

"It would surely be a pain for our day-to-day groceries and necessities," said Turcotte. "[Patrice and Isabelle] still look young. I was surprised to know it's been 35 years that they were here so I think it's a well-deserved retirement."

Submitted by Patrice Dupont
Submitted by Patrice Dupont

Looking forward to doing 'nothing' in retirement

Dupont says he has heard a bit about the anxiety people are feeling as they wonder what is next for the general store. They first put it up on the market in October, as they wanted to take the time to find the right buyer.

"I'm getting older… We're selling it now because we have the choice to take our time," said Dupont.

"When you're an owner with the general store, you can't stop working. I mean when you can take seven days in a row well that's huge …I tell everybody what I'm going to do [in retirement] … nothing. For the next summer, I'm gonna do nothing."

Dupont says they accepted the offer but have to finalize the paperwork and conditions in the coming weeks. He thinks the new owners will continue the business and says he and Caron will be in town if they ever need help.

"We're not dead," joked Dupont. "If they need help they just have to call, we already told them."