Brockville is a small city (25,000) in the Thousands Islands, on the St. Lawrence River between the City of Kingston and the Quebec border. Like so many other communities that settled along the river, its main street is called King and its main street architecture is 19th century. We visit often because of family and we’ve walked down King Street a gazillion times, but I never paid much attention to Ritchie’s before. Then this past Christmas Eve, my eye caught the big Lotto 649 sandwich board outside its door and, feeling lucky, I decided to pop in and buy us a Christmas lottery ticket. That’s when I discovered that Ritchie’s isn’t your average convenience store. Its huge glass display cases, old wooden counter tops and shelves are 1870 originals and some of its advertising is almost as old, like the two bevelled mirrors. One reads “Smoke the creme de la creme Rosa & Sonora Cigars”. It came from a Montreal cigar company that’s long gone.
Only two families have owned Ritchie’s since 1870 – the Ritchie family and then since 1955, the Hicklings. I met John Hickling while buying my lottery ticket. He told me his dad started working at Ritchie’s in 1925 eventually buying the store and the 3-storey building it’s housed in. When John’s dad died in 1985, John took over. Later John’s son Peter, came on board. John was gracious enough to show me around. In the back is Ritchie’s former pool hall with its original tables gathering dust. Downstairs amid boxes and boxes of chocolate bars, there’s an old wreck of a five-pin bowling alley with its original slate scoreboard. Names and scores dating back 70 years are still recorded, including a perfect game scored by Alfie Countryman ‘way back in 1939. Later, over Christmas Eve dinner, I told my Ritchie’s story. My mother says the name “Countryman” still exists in the area. She and her friend Margaret, who joined us for Christmas turkey, had never heard of the bowling alley though and both thought Ritchie’s would be a great addition to a future Doors Open.
Here are more old general stores in Canada. Got an old general store in your part of the world? We’d love to hear about it.