Stirling Mercantile

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The sweet smell of old-fashioned candy lingers in the air at the Stirling General Mercantile. It’s a place you can’t help but feel nostalgic as you browse through dozens of different treats that bring back memories of childhood.

Stirling resident Tina Koonings, who has owned the business for the past eight years, carries more than 600 items in her shop. Inside the store you’ll find old-fashioned candy, retro Kool-Aid, uniquely flavoured gums and chocolate, licorice, pop, novelty magnets, mints and signs, retro toys and more.

“People come in here and they end up spending 45 minutes browsing,” said Koonings, adding that many of her clientele return to the shop over and over for a specific treat they can only get at the mercantile.

Knowing her customers is part of the appeal of living and working in a small town like Stirling, Kooning said. Although she’s only been living in the village for the past 10 years, she’s established close relationships within the community and loves the atmosphere.
“It’s so different from the city. It’s a slower life, and the people are friendlier,” she said.

As the years have passed, Koonings’ customers who were once children have grown into adults who still return to the mercantile.

“I have customers who are away at university and they’ll come into the store and say, ‘do you remember me?’,” she said. “It’s really mesmerizing the things I have learned about these kids operating this store.”

Koonings is originally from Toronto where she worked in retail and big box stores for most of her career. About a decade ago she made the decision to leave the city and never looked back.

“I was tired of working where I wasn’t happy – there was no joy in it,” she said. “I had about seven days to buy a house, I came down on a weekend to look, and Stirling just felt like home.”

Once she had settled into her new life in the village, she was eager to start a small business. She saw a need for a mercantile but wanted to put her own twist on it.
“I like a lot of funky, crazy, retro-type stuff, and I figured if I like that kind of thing, I can’t be the only person who’s going to like it. Apparently, I was right,” she joked.
In fact, her products were so popular with customers that five years ago she expanded into Bancroft and opened a second shop. “I was having so much fun, I said, ‘let’s open another one’.”

Koonings prides herself on selling not only unique and fun products, but also high-quality candy that keeps customers returning. Most of her candy selection is imported from Europe – Spain in particular – where there are more stringent rules about ingredients and additives that go into candy.
“People will sometimes come into my store and say, ‘candy is just candy’, but once you try a good candy, you can taste the difference,” she said, adding that she is always on the lookout for the best quality products.

“We have about 150 jars of candy in the store. Over the years I’ve gone through about 400 different types of candy, and some of it you’ll never see here again. I’m really picky about it.”

More than 150 jars line the counter at the mercantile. Inside the jars are all different varieties of delicious candies that customers buy in grab bags. Kids who visit the store love the adventure of choosing different candies.

With 2020 being a challenging year for all businesses, Kooning has had a few setbacks. Primarily, her biggest challenge has been cancelled shipments of product, due to changes in the food industry and packaging amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But she is still optimistically preparing for her busiest time of the year – Christmas.

“December is my craziest month. There’s something on everybody’s Christmas list that you can buy in this store,” she said. Popular holiday favourites include butter rum Lifesavers, black licorice pipes and chocolate covered gummy bears.
While many businesses see a slowdown in January, Kooning’s said, she has a different experience at the mercantile.

“Come January, I get a whole new set of customers. I get people saying they got a retro gift for Christmas and they had to come and visit the store to see where it came from.”

The shop offers a variety of pops and retro drinks, including The Pop Shoppe, Jones Soda, Crush and Tahitian Treat.

Between filling bags of candy for youngsters who frequent the shop, tending to her older customers who come in for their favourites, and preparing stock for the holiday season, Kooning experiences fast-paced days she jokingly describes as “insanity.” But her excitement and passion for the business never cease to exist. Finding new products and providing her customers with meaningful experiences brings her joy.

“It’s the best place to work. You don’t come to a candy store angry, or if you do, you definitely can’t leave angry,” she said.

“There’s just really good karma here.”

For more information on the Stirling General Mercantile, visit their Facebook page, or pop by the store at 26 West Front Street in Stirling.



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