2013 Times Colonist Article: "Sustainable retirement: Store broadens the idea of ‘local’"

By Carla Wilson, Times Colonist


Alix Harvey was in Vancouver surveying a sorry assortment of plastic products manufactured offshore when she had the idea of establishing an old-fashioned, neighbourhood general store that would sell sustainably produced merchandise.

That idea turned into a passion that turned into reality on May 20 when Alix, supported by husband Chris, both retired educators, opened the Local General Store at 1140 Haultain St. in Victoria.

The Local General Store is the newest arrival in the Haultain Street-Belmont Avenue commercial area, where colourful flowers bloom in large pots and a big silver dish holds water for passing dogs. Nearby businesses include a coffee shop, two convenience stores, a barber shop and a spa. The 680-square-foot store is open Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Alix is passionate about the environment and the merchandise reflects that, including: pottery, candles, soaps, cleaning products, fresh produce and meat from local farms, cheeses, granola, gluten-free options, linens, cloth dolls, jewelry, gardening supplies, greeting cards, organic cotton clothing, olive oil, baked goods, water bottles and pet food. Repurposed wine barrels have been made into home-decor items.

Customers can grind whole grains or roll their own oats in the store. They can also order gift baskets. Recipes are posted by the door and on the store’s website: thelocalgeneralstore.ca.

While much of the selection is produced in Victoria or elsewhere in B.C., the store’s vision is worldwide.

“We are not of a ‘100-Mile’ philosophy in the purest sense. We now live in a globally interrelated environment, and only focusing on one’s own local well-being contradicts the spirit of interconnectedness that has emerged over this past century,” the store’s website states. “ ‘Local’ for us also means respecting and wishing the best for local communities all over the world.”

Many products are organic, and suppliers follow environmentally friendly farming practices. As Alix walks along the aisles, she talks about the producers, the community and their customers, emphasizing that the business is focused on building relationships.

Like anyone who runs a small business, Alix quickly learned that long hours are the norm.

She was up at 4:30 a.m. the other day and says 14-hour days are not unusual.

That’s fine with Alix. “You know, when you are happy doing something, time doesn’t exist.”

Married 38 years, the Harveys, who have three adult children, both retired in December 2010. Alix, 61, had spent the previous 20 years teaching English as a second language to international students at the University of Victoria. Chris, 63, had been an associate superintendent of School District 61. He works in the store but has also set aside time for volunteer work and other activities.

Before opening the Local General Store, Alex studied at Camosun College, read books and talked to other businesspeople, including her brother. Friends and family pitched in to help the store take shape, scraping paint, fixing furniture and fashioning signs.

The Harveys reflect a trend amongst retirees. The Internet is filled with business ideas and advice for people approaching retirement or already there. Some are becoming entrepreneurs because they enjoy working; others want to shore up an uncertain financial situation.

A TD Canada Trust survey released in October found that 54 per cent of baby boomers either had started or were thinking of starting their own business before retiring.

Almost one in five workers in Canada is 55 years or older, according to Statistics Canada’s national household survey released last week. This group represents 18.7 per cent of total employment, up from 15.5 per cent in the 2006 census.

The Harveys are looking forward to years ahead in the store. “We anticipate that we are going to watch kids grow up,” Chris said. “Both of us feel as young as we ever have.”

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