Port Grocer owners preparing to hand over the keys

·6 min read

A cornerstone of the community for the past seven years, The Port Grocer in Port Medway is up for sale.

“You know when. That’s where that whole seven-year itch saying comes from,” said Annabelle Singleton, who, along with Robie Sagar, co-owns the store. “Obviously, there’s something to that. I didn’t realize I was so stereotypical, but I guess I am.”

Nonetheless, she admits the decision to sell wasn’t an easy one.

“Port Medway kind of makes my heart want to burst. It is such a tremendous place to live and work,” she explained, choking up over the phone. “We couldn’t have asked for a better place to land. We found such an amazing community here.”

Singleton took on this business with Debra Melanson after the pair worked together at the Riverbank Café in Mill Village seven years ago. Friend Sparrow Lindsey also helped start things off, but had to return to Ontario just seven months after their opening due to family obligations.

Singleton looked after the front-end of things, while Melanson was the kitchen manager, head cook and baker.

Melanson sold her share in the business to Sagar in November 2020, after several months of taking time working as a caregiver to her mother, and her own health became an issue. Though she remained very much involved with, and worked at, the business as and when she could.

The store remained open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic until February 20 of this year, when the doors closed so everyone could have a break. A few weeks before re-opening on April 5, Singleton and Melanson decided it was time to step away. They admit they had run out of energy for the business and felt it was time to turn the page on this chapter of their lives.

How it all began

Singleton and her husband were living in Halifax, when they left and toured North America in a VW bus for nine months. “When we got back to Nova Scotia we were like this province is the most magical place that you could be.”

She said they didn’t want to go back to the city for “quality of life reasons,” so they took to the road again and toured the province for the next year. They fell in love with a little house in Mill Village and decided to call it home.

Volunteering at the Riverbank General Store, Singleton grew fond of life in a small community. After a friend who was visiting from Ontario spotted The Port Grocer, Singleton teamed up with Melanson and put a business plan together. They secured funding from Farmworks, an investment coop that provides loans to food-related for-profit businesses, as well as the Community Business Development Corporation.

The mission

“We started doing house concerts and potlucks in our backyard in Mill Village, and just really created a great network of friends,” recalled Singleton. “People were looking for more, and so then it was, like, we can offer more. We had so much to offer, so much energy.”

The husbands also played a part in the success of the business.

Sagar is a musician and was the main reason they had so much great musical talent at the Port Grocer. He plays percussion, harmonica, sax, banjo, keyboard and more for the different bands that played there.

Melanson’s husband, Phil, is the proverbial handyman of the group and sings as well.

“What it boils down to is that we wanted to create the kind of community that we wanted to live in, and that was to have access to local, good quality wholesome food, friends, music and art, and the kind of place you can call on your neighbour,” explained Singleton.

“We wanted to bring the community back to being a community, and give them a place to go and one that is theirs, and we did that,” added Melanson.

Offerings

Prior to Melanson and Singleton taking over the building, it was the Farmer’s Kwik-Way, which had been run by Wendy Farmer and her family for more than nine years. During the summer, they offered deep-fried fish and chips.

Under the new ownership, out went the controversial fryers, and on came a new back porch and expanded the indoor seating. The premises became a store/café/community centre, designed to promote South Shore artists and food producers and create a gathering place.

Yoga classes were held upstairs. A community garden was set up and there was also a community market once a week for locals to showcase their wares.

The Port Grocer was also the site of the local post office, and any new owners will have the opportunity to take that over as well.

Ask Singleton about her favorite part of owning The Port Grocer, and she’ll tell you the brunches and pub nights.

“Talk about exceptional fun, to the point where people would walk in as complete strangers and end up coming back week after week, because they made a friend, then they made two friends and now they’ve got like a whole new community of friends,” explained Singleton.

For Melanson, it was the people and the camaraderie among staff.

“The people in Port Medway are so welcoming. They are so community-oriented. Once we got set up there, they welcomed us with open arms. Friday nights were also really special with the live music. Every Friday night was like a big party” she said.

What’s next?

Singleton and Sagar currently are living in a home not far from the Port Grocer and they want to remain a part of the community. Singleton is also continuing on with her primary work as an environmental consultant.

Melanson, whose mother died in January, recently underwent major surgery and is taking time off, though she expects go back to work in a kitchen somewhere.

The sale and hopes

Final details on the sale have yet to be worked out. Realtor Sheila Sinnott of Land & Sea Real Estate is working on assessing the business, building and property to come up with a final asking price.

According to Singleton, several people already have shown interest in the business, despite it not being listed on the market yet.

“We hope that they take the best of what we did and put their own stamp on it,” she said. “I can just imagine somebody is out there, and maybe they are coming out of some kind of corporate world and they’re going, ‘I can run a café in a beautiful seaside community. How magical would that be?’”

Kevin McBain, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin