Community Spirit: Bancroft's "The Old Tin Shed" gains national prestige.

Published in Country Roads Magazine, Spring, 2015

Janis Whitehead hands me a steaming cup of Kicking Horse coffee, and goes about dusting off the multiple trophies The Old Tin Shed has won over the last few months. The retired teacher is humble about her family's achievements, but has agreed to let me photograph her and her husband Peter with the awards. The coffee smells fantastic. But then, so does the whole store. Scented soy candles, luxurious lotions, and handmade soaps perfume the air. This isn't the first time I've entered the shop, and it won't be the last. Every time I walk in I can feel my shoulders relax as my senses are flooded with the shop's rich warm smells and dreamy music (today it's Norah Jones). It's no wonder this eclectic shop with its beautiful art, jewelry, and home decor items has won the very prestigious 'Canadian Retailer of the Year' award from the Canadian Gift Association. As far as shops go, it's a masterpiece.

“Gosh, where did he get to now?” Asks Janis when we're ready to take the photo. Peter has disappeared. We find out that he is helping one of the staffers bring in a new delivery.

“This will be so much easier once the addition is built,” says Peter, dusting off his blue jeans, as we join him in the crowded storage room at the back of the shop.

It's been a big year for the Whiteheads and their daughter Dagny Musclow who run the business together. Not only did they win the Canadian Retailer of the Year award, they were honoured with the 'Tourism Business of the Year' award too, at the Hastings County HOTie awards ceremony last fall. They also launched a new website complete with an online shopping feature, and now they're building a 1600 square foot addition.

“We're gluttons for punishment,” says Peter with a wink and an easy chuckle. “No really, it's been a whirlwind, but we couldn't be happier. And once the addition is built we'll actually have the storage and office space to accommodate all the things we do around here.”

We're just about to take the photo when Janis gets called away to talk to her Granddaughter, Moryah, on the phone. It really is a family business in every sense of the word. Moryah joined The Old Tin Shed team as a junior partner when she was just six years old, and is now studying business at college. While we wait for Janis to rejoin us, Peter tells me about the addition.

“We're increasing our showroom by fifty percent,” he says. That's significant considering the showroom is already one of the largest in town at over 1500 square feet. “A lot of that space will be devoted to women's apparel, but we're bringing in some men's fashions, too, to test the market, and we'll have some larger pieces of primitive-looking replica furniture like armoires and harvest tables.”

The shop already has some furniture, but most of the home decor items are things like decorative lighting solutions, country-style linens and curtains, braided rugs, and unique iron hooks and hardware. More space will mean more room for big pieces, as well as one-of-a-kind salvage items that they design in-house.

I ask Peter about the signs. They're all over the walls. “Always kiss me goodnight,” “I love us,” and other sweet sentiments are stencilled on reclaimed lumber. I'm glad I asked because I end up hearing the story of how Peter and Janis met. And it's a good story.

“Honestly, I think it's part of the reason we're so loyal to our seasonal customers,” says Janis when she returns from her phone call with Moryah. Janis and Peter met at Janis' family cottage, not far from Bancroft, when she was just 14 years old. They were instantly smitten with each other, sneaking off for canoeing dates, and while their families thought it was just puppy love at the beginning, five years later they were married. They spent many happy times together at the lake before deciding cottage country was where they wanted to be year-round and started building the home they still live in today, just a short drive from the shop.

“It took a while to really feel like locals,” says Janis, about those cottage years. “Once we started homesteading the community completely embraced us, and we've felt right at home ever since, but when we were here for just part of the year we didn't always feel included in the community. That's part of the reason we're so focused on making sure our seasonal residents feel the love at The Old Tin Shed. It's their community too.”

Community is huge to the Whiteheads. They are avid supporters of the Highland Animal Relief Team (HART), which they fundraise for through various in-store promotions, as well as the Home Again Animal Rescue which holds a fashion show fundraiser at the Village Playhouse each fall.

“The fashion show is a hoot!” says Janis. And getting people to model The Old Tin Shed's apparel is never hard because the clothing lines they carry, including 'Cut•Loose Clothing,' are uber popular, and the Shed team tends to spoil their models with swag, gift certificates, lunch, and wine. Last year the fashion show raised more than $12,000 for the animal rescue organization.

But that's barely the tip of the iceberg in terms of their dedication to the community. Peter has been a town councillor in Bancroft; Janis was President of the Chamber of Commerce; both of them, and Dagny, have been very active in the Bancroft Business Improvement Area (BBIA); and they all volunteer countless hours to various economic development initiatives throughout North Hastings.

“Why wouldn't we?” says Peter, with a nonchalant shrug. “If we're able to give back to the community in any way, we're going to. This is our home and it's dear to us.”

He tells me about the early days of their marriage when they realized summers at the cottage weren't enough, and decided to build a year-round home and start a family away from the city. For a year and a half they ventured out every weekend looking at real estate. They searched everywhere, from Quebec, to New Liskeard, to Vermont, and everywhere in between. They had a picture in their heads of their forever home, and when they travelled to North Hastings to view a piece of land with an incredible view, a small cabin, and a perfect building site, they knew they'd found it.

“There's nowhere else we'd rather be,” agrees Janis, smiling at Peter.

I finally get them to stand still long enough to take the photo.

“So will the addition have a basement?” I ask, as I click away with my camera.

Peter and Janis give each other a knowing mischievous look.

“Yes...” says Peter.

I press. They hesitate. But their eyes are sparking.

Finally, Janis gives me a hint.

“Yes, there will be a basement. It will be spacious, and it's going to be pretty fantastic. But that's all I can say right now. It's top secret for a few more months.”

Their excitement is un-concealable. But even though I ask again, they won't tell. Not yet. Janis adds fresh coffee to my cup, and says she'll spill the beans after the snow melts.

I leave with my own shabby-chic sign, to hang in my own home. “And they lived happily ever after,' it says, in Janis' cursive script.

For more information about the Old Tin Shed, photos, tutorials on how to use 'Caromal Colours' and 'Reclaim Paints,' or to shop online visit www.TheOldTinShed.com or visit the shop at 25 Sherbourne Street in Bancroft.