OXFORD, N.S. – Walking into an Oxford variety store is like taking a walk back in time to when Stedman’s, Woolworth’s, Woolco and the Metropolitan stores were common names.
It hasn’t been easy, but Eric Mosher has carved his niche with GJDE Enterprises – allowing him to compete with the big box retailers as well as those online outlets.
“There has been a lot of perseverance involved with this store,” Mosher said. “This is the 44th year of business and in that time there have been good times and bad times.”
After graduating from Mount Allison and then going to school in Rochester, N.Y., Mosher returned to Oxford. The family was only using about half of the floor space he’s using today.
“It has been a slow, steady period of growth to the point I have the largest inventory I’ve ever had and it has also been the most successful year I’ve ever had,” Mosher said.
While many small stores are disappearing for a variety of reasons, Mosher has “persevered” with clientele from Oxford, Cumberland County, across the province and the other Maritime provinces.
“There’s something special about this place that keeps bringing people back,” Mosher said. “I think it has a lot to do with the atmosphere. It has a very retro feel, a feel-good store. It’s nostalgic and a trip down memory lane. I carry a lot of things that people remember from when they were young.”
While he carries many traditional items – such as wind-up and mechanical toys, candy and music boxes as well as the Drinking Bird that was a fad in the 1970s – he uses modern technology to help him advertise. His Facebook page receives views from around the world and – while most of his orders come close to home – he has shipped items outside Canada.
He also offers retro appliances that take people back to the 1950s and earlier.
Mosher said he carefully selects items shoppers and visitors won’t see at other stores, along with things he remembers from his childhood and those unique items that rekindle memories of a bygone era.
“At the end of the day it’s just me. People know me and know I offer good customer service,” Mosher said. “I had a visitor from California this summer who asked me how many suppliers I had and I thought about it for a few minutes and told him about a hundred. He was amazed. He said it’s a place every visitor to Nova Scotia needs to visit.”
There are challenges, though, including the fact he doesn’t have a computer and frowns upon smartphones. Also, during the golden era of several decades ago there were other stores and service stations on Water Street – many of them which have left. He’s always working to make sure people don’t forget about his store.
“I’ve had people say ‘I’ve had a cottage at Heather Beach for 40 years and I never knew you were here,’ but there’s also a strong local customer base that I haven’t even addressed,” he said. “There’s lots of room to grow and it’s all about the experience with the nostalgia and the customer service experience.”
On the flip side, he deals personally with sales representatives.
“That’s someone’s job and the more you buy online or in the virtual world, the less jobs there are,” he said. “Some of the companies I have bought with for more than 20 years. You develop pretty good relationships with the sales reps and the company.”
While people used to be “in and out” Mosher said customers now spend lots of time in the store because there’s so much for them to see. He’s always looking for new products, but maintains he’s focused on products that have a local feel, including blueberry and maple items.
He’s also toying with the idea of turning the building next door into a bistro of some sort.
The building dates back to the 1850s giving it a nostalgic charm. In 1897, A.E. Smith of Economy purchased the J.H. Reid property on Water Street and opened what would become one of Oxford’s leading grocers.
What started as a grocer and restaurant saw a movie theatre – the Fairyland – opened on the building’s third floor and the entire enterprise was called a “grand emporium” by the former Oxford Journal in 1908.
It was in the early 20s when Smith built what is the present-day Capitol Theatre on Main Street – that was one of the most modern theatres in the Maritimes at the time.
The store was taken over by Bertha and Leslie Asbell, Smith’s daughter and son-in-law, after he died in 1942. It was later taken over by Mosher’s parents, George and Joan, and then by Eric, who has put his own distinct touch on the building.
“Dad managed the store in the 1950s, I think it was 1957 to 59 or something like that. I was born in 1961 in Springhill and dad was with Stedman’s pretty much from then on. He managed the store in Springhill, Corner Brook, Sackville and Sussex and he was district manager for New Brunswick in Woodstock,” Mosher said. “They bought this store in 1974 and operated it as a Stedman’s.”
Mosher said his family lived on the second floor of the building and he now lives there.
The store became GJDE Enterprises in 1979 when the family left Stedman’s.