From June 2017

Towns & Leahy Mercantile and Deli: A Community Hub Returns to Douro

Illustration by Peterborough Artist George Elliott in commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of P.G Towns & Sons General Store; and the current Towns & Leahy Mercantile and Deli (a few months before opening day).

General store featuring local/seasonal products now open for business; grand opening to take place in July.

There are a disorienting number of family members present when you visit the Towns & Leahy Mercantile and Deli in Douro — or at least there has been the two times that I popped by. There were at least (a combined) four generations present as I paid for my groceries yesterday.

I say disorienting, because, unless you know them, you’re never quite sure if you’re talking to a Towns or a Leahy. Both families are made up of kind, sturdy Irish folk — with the fair skin and dark hair so characteristic of their old world compatriots. And both are quick to join with a quip or a laugh. I still have no idea whether the the 7-month-old I giggled with was part of the Towns or Leahy side of this business relationship, though I soon found out that the tall, white-haired gentleman was a Towns patriarch.

Things only get blurrier once you factor in the Douro community members — whose sheer number of comers and goers makes you wonder if the entire township is popping by to check on developments. They all know each other — and the small-town bond makes them almost as close as kin.

Nancy Towns (great grand-daughter to Patrick George Towns, the founder of the P.G. Towns General Store), Clara Leahy (of the farming Leahy clan), and Rosemary and Mike Towns (grandson to Patrick George) work the store on opening day.

Here’s the thing, though: within a minute of walking through the door, I felt part of that close-knit, rural connection. By the time I had reached the cash register, I was on a first-name basis with almost everyone there. At Towns & Leahy, you are instantly part of the community. You instantly feel welcomed.

But back to family for a second. The new store is being opened by Nancy and Mark Towns, great grandchildren of original proprietors of the P.G. Towns General Store established on this spot in 1892, and Bernard and Lise Leahy (and family), owners of Leahy Stock Farm and 5th and 6th generation farmers in the Douro area. There is a lot of local genealogy coming together in this project.

Both families are hoping that their efforts will restore the building to its rightful place as a community hub, after the General Store closed last year.

If nothing else, the closing of that original business should act a sober reminder: if Douro wants a general store, it will need to support it faithfully. The curious (and supportive) onlookers that have been monitoring progress over the past few months have been a positive sign. So, too, was the packed opening day yesterday.

While the Mercantile and Deli is a new beginning, the store contains many links to the past. Original countertops show the dents and knife-nicks of decades of use. Original shelving graces the wall. Taking time to poke around, you’ll notice other relics: ice-boxes that once preserved foods, old wooden wall-mounted phones, curious knickknacks…

More important than the past, though, is the present and future. Towns & Leahy will not only be serving Douro-area residents, but supporting local farmers and producers as well. There are a lot of people invested in the store’s success.

Once they reach peak operation, they will be stocking regional produce, in-house roasted meats from Leahy Stock Farm, dried goods, specialty foods, local craft products, home baking, and much more. They will also operate a café on site. They will host music and storytelling events, where locals will strut their stuff.

Yesterday represented a “soft” opening, however. And not all of what they will eventually be selling has made it to shelf yet.

“Not all systems are up and ready yet,” admits Nancy Towns. “And we’ll be working hard to iron out the kinks and quirks of all our processes as we learn. However, the coffee is on, the deli is open — including our in-shop roasted meats from Leahy Stock Farms, while quantities last — and there are fresh made sandwiches. We have handmade pies and tea biscuits, again, while quantities last.”

Shoppers can also choose from a selection of local frozen meats and dairy products, produce, honey, maple syrup, and organic flour — all from Douro-Dummer. Their dry grocery selection (crackers, cookies etc) is currently in the process of being stocked, but will be arriving throughout the next couple of weeks.

Checking in yesterday, we found that the opening had been a huge success.

“We’ve been really quite busy,” said Clara Leahy, as she dashed off to slice some of her family’s roast beef for me. “It’s been a fun first day.”

Fun, but, by the look of it, hectic. Strands of dark Irish curls had escaped Clara’s ponytail, and a slightly frazzled look washed over her face when she looked up to find yet another line-up at her counter.

Thankfully, she was met with plenty of familiar faces.

“I don’t think any of us can say enough about the support of this community and the people here,” she added as she greeted shoppers.

In between sales — and trying to work the bugs out of their new Interac machine — Nancy was appreciative of the first successful day. “We want to thank people for coming out. And thank people in advance for their patience as we get our wheels turning.”

Patience, I think, will be easy to come by. This is a community store, after all. And, while it is owned by the Towns and Leahy families, it seems like all of Douro-Dummer is in it together.

Which will likely be the key to success that the Mercantile and Deli will need.

You can find Towns & Leahy Mercantile and Deli at 296 Douro County Road 8, in Douro, Ontario.

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Some of the producers Towns & Leahy will be working with:

Chocolate Rabbit (chocolates)
G. Fenton Farms (chicken)
Merrylynd Farms (organic ancient flour)
McMullen’s Honey (wild honey)
Carl McKevier Maple Syrup
Circle Organic (produce)
Scents & Suds (natural soaps)
Sannox Farms (non-certified organic lamb and rabbit)
Otonabee Apiary (buckwheat honey)
Molly’s Acres (non-certified organic hydroponic live lettuce and leafy greens)
Douro Furniture Factory (all locally sourced wood as written on the products)
Rufino Espresso Classic Gourmet Coffee (family owned and roasted in Toronto)
Sugar Daddy (local pop, using natural ingredients)
Crosswind Farm (dairy goat product)
Hawthorne Ridge Farm (rhubarb, local fresh cut flower bouquets)
Sugar Valley Farm (Maple products)
Millar Farms (eggs)
Hard Winter Bread Company
Leahy Stock Farm (farm raised beef and pork. Farm raised. Grass-fed options)
Kawartha Dairy
Empire Cheese

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Towns & Leahy Mercantile and Deli: In Their Own Words

We are a collective of hardworking, locally involved entrepreneurs preparing to open a business in the historic section of the P.G Towns building in the hamlet of Douro, Ontario, established in 1892. With over two centuries of combined family history as both merchants and farmers, the doors will open this coming spring.

Our independent, rural hub aims to collaborate with passionate local producers, artisans and business owners, balanced with the right amount of other ingredients; from some classic everyday items to specialty merchandise from places and people we are connected to both near and far.

A community-minded business, we want to provide food in the same way we like to prepare and consume it ourselves; as an enjoyable and social experience as it was in the days of old and remains today in many market settings around the world. Most of all we want to share with our customers the joy of quality goods, wholesome cooking and good eating. Our goal is to be a shopping destination and daily go-to, curated with heritage for the communities of Douro-Dummer, Peterborough County and the Kawartha Lakes.