From Farmer to Grocer in Coe Hill

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Grateful and thankful were the words customers used to describe how they felt about shopping at the newly renovated Coe Hill Grocery Store this past week.

The store officially opened its doors Friday, March 21 after being fully revitalized by new owner Wendy Mortimer and a dedicated team of more than 30 volunteers. Mortimer is a local organic farmer who settled in Coe Hill in 2017. Her passion for growing food that is healthy, ecologically sound, and sustainable is part of the reason she decided to purchase the business back in February.

“Coe Hill needed a bigger store with a different focus,” Mortimer said. “I wanted a grocery store with more selection and more organic produce and locally sourced products.”

Woman smiling. Wendy Mortimer
Wendy Mortimer

For two decades, Mortimer visited Coe Hill, a small rural community located 30 minutes southwest of Bancroft, as a cottager. But eventually, she retired and purchased a farm in the community. Owning a grocery store wasn’t something she ever saw herself doing, but she’s excited to offer a much-needed service to residents and tourists.

“Everybody was anxious to have a new store, because the nearest grocery store is a half-hour away,” she said. “There was a massive input of energy from volunteers.”

Grocery items on a shelf in a store with shopping carts
After months of renovation and the addition of new equipment and inventory, the shelves at Coe Hill Grocery Store are loaded with an array of products, including a full line of gluten free products, environmentally friendly laundry options, and Canadian brands like Chapman’s.

Mortimer’s dedicated team transformed the inside of the store – laying new flooring, building shelving, installing new doors, and generally cleaning up the space. The day before opening, her new staff were busy putting product on shelves, pricing and preparing for an influx of customers.

At the same time as Mortimer was negotiating the purchase of the store, the next closest grocery store in Apsley burned down. Mortimer approached the Sayers family to offer her store to them so that food would continue to be available locally.

Coe Hill Grocery Store, located on Highway 620, offers everyday grocery items, but Mortimer has chosen to also focus on stocking items from the local community, like produce, meat, honey, maple syrup, soaps and more. She offers a fully stocked gluten-free section and carries Canadian name brands like Tru Earth and Chapman’s.

“I want to have a thriving store and find producers of unique and healthy options  – short food chains, small farmers, and humane animal raising,” she said, adding she is currently looking for innovative, hand-crafted product. She plans to sell everything commonly found at a grocery store, but with a local connection.

Aside from in-person shopping, Coe Hill Grocery Store will also soon have an e-commerce website allowing visitors to pre-order items for the cottage and pick-up on their way through. For the summer months, Coe Hill Grocery Store will be open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., with plans to stay open late on Fridays for pick-ups or evening shoppers. It’s another way the business is appealing to its customer-base and expanding its services.

A cashier in a grocery store wearing a mask
Cashier Rene Picco trained on brand new cash registers at the fully renovated Coe Hill Grocery store on Thursday, May 20, 2021.

Coe Hill Grocery Store is a great example of how the entrepreneurial spirit is alive in rural Hastings County, said Andrew Redden, Economic and Tourism Development Manager for Hastings County.

“We’re proud of Wendy and her new business venture,” he said. “Grocery stores are the nucleus of a community and provide essential items and services to residents and tourists alike. It’s a fantastic addition to Wollaston Township and one that is supporting local growers and artisans.”


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