Last week (Nov. 2nd-6th), two of Southampton’s longest serving businesses closed their doors changing forever, the fabric and landscape of the town’s main street – High Street.
Harrigan’s 100 Mile Food Market (formerly the Red & White and Food Town) closed its doors on November 2nd along with Downs Pro Hardware on November 6th. For 35 years, the owners of the two businesses worked tirelessly to provide the community with that personal touch of local community service.
Harrigan’s 100 Mile Food Market
Harrigan’s not only provided grocery items, Mary Ellen Harrigan also supported and sourced whenever possible local suppliers.
Upon entering the store, there was the familiar sound of the traditional ‘cow bell’. “The bell came from the former ‘General Store’,” said Mary Ellen. “At one time it was attached by a rope that eventually wore out. A customer entered the store one day and the rope broke. The customer jumped and thought a bird had flown in with her. It wasn’t a bird it was the old cow bell which, from then on, was hung by a chain.”
In 2009, the ‘buy local’ food movement took on a life of its own. People, concerned about where their food actually comes from, what goes into the growing of it, what are the environmental impacts … all these and more questions were being asked by consumers.
It was then that Harrigan’s Food Town re-surfaced as the 100 Mile Food Market. More than 60 volunteers turned out day after day to lend their skills in painting, carpentry, design, moving product and any other task that was needed to renew the store to become a ‘country’ market.
It was one of those old fashioned grocery stores where the owner, Mary Ellen Harrigan, knew everyone. It wasn’t ever a big, fancy grocery store but, instead, had all the atmosphere of yesteryear’s general store. It was that old-fashioned appeal that the owner, and the entire community, banked on.
As part of her support local vision, Mary Ellen sourced Pine River cheeses, local baked goods, jams and jellies, ice cream, local meats, and vegetables whenever possible in season. Harrigan’s also carried gluten free, dairy-free, vegan and organic products.
Mary Ellen Harrigan, was also known for her catering that became a big part of the business for local meetings such as Southampton Rotary, luncheons and weddings, but also became known for her famous DELI-sandwiches made while you waited with all fresh ingredients and stacks of deli meats. She also provided the important hot meals for the community ‘Meals on Wheel’s’ program.
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Downs Pro Hardware
There is an old saying in Southampton … “if Downs doesn’t have it, you don’t need it”. Such was the saying for good reason, but no longer.
Downs Pro Hardware was the old-fashioned kind of hardware store that welcomed customers, whether to buy or simply browse the thousands of items on the two floors. Looking for nails? Downs had every kind. Looking for birdseed? Downs had it in bulk. Looking for unusual cooking items? Thanks to Jean Downs (recently deceased), they probably had it in a variety of colours. Needed a key cut? No problem. Looking for an inflatable pool swimming device in February? Look downstairs.
Mike Downs, a former IBM executive and top salesman, was working in Toronto when he met his wife, Jean. “A couple of us young executives shared a penthouse apartment. We were high-rolling young executives when my room-mate’s girlfriend brought her friend (Jean) to Toronto from London (ON) for the weekend. That was it. Game over.”
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The couple eventually moved to Southampton where they purchased the property on High Street that evolved over the years from a pet store, to a hardware store, a ‘mo-ped’ sales store in the 1980s, a small-engine repair depot, a satellite tv outlet and a major housewares distribution center that Jean fostered.
Mike Downs said that despite COVID-19, sales for the store have doubled. “It might be an unfortunate time to sell but the time is right for me.”
Downs is also a collector of motorcycles of all kinds. He reminisced about how he and Jean would travel on a Honda Gold Wing. “Most on bikes would look around and enjoy the scenery,” he said. “Jean however would sit on the back of the bike with a book open supported by my back and would read wherever we went.”
“It takes a really special kind of entrepreneur to maintain this kind of business for more than 30 years and it has been an incredible business,” said Mayor Luke Charbonneau. “You and Jean built a legacy here in Southampton and have touched so many people and you will be missed.”
Mike is moving to Chepstow where he has purchased a mobile home and a large heated garage. “This will be a definite change but the garage will give me a space to work on my motorcycles during the winter. Life moves on and so am I.”