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Despite struggles, COVID can't discourage local businesswoman from opening 'uniquely Canadian' Sundridge store

In 21 days, the former office was transformed into a store, stocked and ready to open under the name 89 Main

When a 17-year-old Margaret Moore (now McDonald) left "small town" Sundridge in 1988 for school in "big city" Toronto, she vowed never to return.

But as John Lennon once famously sang, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."

"Sundridge is such a beautiful town, but as a teen I swore, 'I'm never coming back,' then as you get older it's like 'man, I wish I was back there,'" she laughed.

She had a full-time job and was living in Brampton up until late last year. The deadly coronavirus had a negative effect on a lot of people and at the start of the pandemic, she went through a marriage separation.

And then, something started pulling her back.

"There was this building that went up for sale," she recalls.

She thought maybe she could start a bed and breakfast with the apartments at the rear of the building. It also had a retail store at the front.

“I’m at that pivotal point in my life where my kids have grown up and are creating their own lives,” she explained. “Covid actually made me realize that the life I was leading was way too busy. It gave me time to reflect on what I wanted to happen as I transitioned into the next phase of my life. I needed to make a big adjustment.”

Using her savings, she was able to purchase the building and its two apartments on the shores of Lake Bernard which is in the heart of the Almaguin Highlands.

“It’s a place that is surrounded by beautiful and peaceful nature while offering you a real sense of community,” she says.

The seed of the idea was planted, but she had never been in retail in her entire life but was willing to roll the dice.

"With all the people moving north let's bring them all the essential things they can't find in the area like socks and underwear and mitts because the retail part of town has just died. "

That small idea grew into a massive undertaking of the store that now serves the surrounding communities. 

In just 21 days, the former office was transformed into a store, stocked and ready to open under the name 89 Main. The grand opening came this past November.

"I really made it for the community. I didn't make it for tourists because tourists will naturally go to the store but being local myself I wanted to bring in a retail outlet that would provide the basics. I was asking some neighbours 'where do you get socks and underwear?' The answer was, 'drive to North Bay or Huntsville.'"

“I am very proud that my store is uniquely Canadian,” says McDonald. “I have employed local artisans and partnered with great Canadian companies like Chilly Moose and Eleven-North.”

Next year she plans on selling ice cream and offering customers paddle boards and kayaks rented by the hour for use on the nearby lake.

One of the people McDonald reached out to for advice was Lana Stevens, a good friend of hers from Sturgeon Falls, who worked in retail businesses all her life and ran her own company for four years until Covid closed her down. “I got some great training when I worked for Banana Republic and Pottery Barn," she says.

After losing her business because of Covid, Stevens was determined not to let that deter her from trying again.

“The pandemic gave me time to breathe and realize how I could succeed the next time. You just have to pick yourself up and try again!” says Stevens."Margaret is fearless. She is so full of confidence and is a great motivator. She has boundless energy. We complement each other so well. We are the perfect Ying and Yang!”

They are now partners.

"She has all this wonderful knowledge I'm able to draw from," says an excited McDonald. "The store took off. It has a life of its own."

McDonald says the reception from townspeople has been"phenomenal."

"I've had a lot of support. It's been really nice."

South River’s Jodi Bennett, a long-time friend, and customer is impressed with the store.

“I love the vibe of the store,” she declared. “It has such a quaint atmosphere. It’s perfectly set up and extremely well displayed. And there’s lots of items to choose from. I loved the cake pops that they gave out on opening day.” Bennett also likes that there are a lot of items for men. “We definitely need that in our little town,” she added. 

Those cake pops were made by Lana’s sister-in-law Dana, who is a trained chef.

"She kept the staff well fed during the renovations by providing them with delicious pastas, pulled pork and wraps as well as letting them sample her delicious almond bark, candy bark and truffles which can now be purchased in the store," said Stevens. "Margaret also had her mom’s signature candy for sale (butter crunch).

McDonald is grateful that she has a great team who worked with her, supporting her vision and helping make her dream come true.

"Troy Stevens, who still continues to work tirelessly almost every day, and many other volunteers who selflessly donated their time and energies to ensure that opening day would come off without a hitch. Only in a small village like Sundridge could you find so many people willing to come out and help you when you so desperately need it,” said McDonald.

“I spent my childhood years growing up in Sundridge,” she says. “Opening this store and feeling so welcomed by this wonderful community has made this a tremendous homecoming for me. I am so happy that I have been able to return and contribute to the community that helped raise me to become the person that I am today.”

Editor's note: Alden Moore, who contributed to writing this story is the father of Margaret and lives with his wife in Sundridge.