Everyone knows it as the B&H though its full and official title is “B&H Your Community Grocer”. Since 1963, the B&H has served as a grocery store, community centre, a place to shop, meet friends and neighbours, and tune into to what’s happening in North Grenville. Jim and Judy Beveridge are continuing the traditions inherited from Jim’s father, Keith who started the store with business partner Ken Haggett known as Red. Jim reminisced recently about the long story and the many changes surrounding the B&H over sixty years.
“60 years of the B&H? On opening day when Dad and Red were here, Bert Loeb was here, President of Loeb, who was the IGA franchisor who had bought the stores and convinced Dad to go partners with the guy who was the produce supervisor for the group of stores, Ken Haggett, although everybody called him Red. Dad and Red didn’t realise that they still needed to buy the front end float from the previous owner; they had scraped to come up with the money they needed for the down payment and didn’t have the money to pay the rest. And Burt Loeb, president of a major wholesale company at the time, paid for it. When my father asked him afterwards about signing a note for it, Burt said, “I know you’ll pay me back”. You know, no paperwork, nothing for $200 which was a lot of money in 1963. And Dad paid back the loan, plus repaid it again and again with loyalty to Burt for that.
“But it was a time, and it was a community, where your word was worth a lot. Highway 16 at that time went along both sides of the store, along Rideau and Sanders. So it was a time where car travel was becoming more important, and the store had what a lot of grocery stores at the time didn’t have: there was parking. And because Highway 16 was a major route into Ottawa, Eastern Ontario was really big for American tourists coming through town until it was bypassed. And then we started to see the decline. In downtowns, when you take the banks and the liquor stores and the beer stores away from them, and then the highway bypasses, that creates a major change.”
But, by then, the B&H was already a valued fixture in the life of the surrounding communities, and Jim couldn’t see the store disappear like so many other downtown businesses. “So, when I took over here in 2005, the biggest reason for me taking over the B&H was because I could not sell the B&H. It was Dad’s store. I realise now, I’m not overly fond of the path that brought me to the B&H, but I’m so thankful for the opportunity.”
The ties the B&H has to the community of North Grenville are deep and are another part of the legacy Jim feels his father left him.
“It was important for my father to support the community that supported him. And he realised that when he came here to Kemptville, he lucked out. He got a location that was pretty sweet compared to what a lot of his business cohorts who were part of that original group had. He ended up with the most successful business out of all of those seven other stores. And it was that you support the community that you’re part of. If it’s good for the community in the long run, it’s good for you.”
After Jim and Judy took over the B&H, the IGA franchise was leaving Ontario and they had a choice of becoming a different franchise operation, which would have meant a sharp limit on how flexible they could be in responding to increased competition and market changes, or going on as a non-affiliated independent store. Jim believes the B&H would not have survived as a franchise.
“One of the challenges of downtown locations is the fact that it’s not convenient. And you need to find a way to have different products where you’re the most convenient store in the marketplace. We’re lucky enough to have the core part of Kemptville where we’ve had great support, but a lot of our customers actually now come from a distance. One of our flagship items is our pot pie program, which we continually struggle to be able to keep in the counter on a very consistent basis. But people come from Orleans and Kanata and people from further afield will stop in when they’re in eastern Ontario. We know we regularly have product that goes to Burlington and London from people driving through here. They’ll call or email their order in ahead of time and pick it up on their way back home. That is one program we would not have been able to do as a franchised operation. And the other part of it is these franchise programs typically have a very small open to buy window. So the majority of the product that they carry in the store are products that are authorised and sold by their franchisor. Where we’ve been able to develop a greater strength is offering products that aren’t carried by the other stores and that people are still looking for in North Granville. So, in all likelihood, a lot of those products would not be in the store if I was in a franchise situation.”
Kemptville has changed almost beyond recognition in the last sixty years. North Grenville has only existed for twenty-five of those years. The B&H has seen major supermarkets coming to town, slowdowns and upturns in markets, lockdowns, ice storms, and the gutting of Downtown Kemptville of anchor businesses. Through it all, the B&H has been a vital supporter of every positive community initiative, charity, service club, and individual residents. Jim eyes the future with a certain quiet ambition.
“And you know, one of my goals when I took over was to get us to the 50th anniversary. And when I got to the 50, it was, yeah, we could make it to 60. And now it’s, after you’ve done 60, what’s the next, 75?
Well, we’ll get up there in age, but wouldn’t it be so cool if Judy and I could still be around and make the 75th anniversary?”