Here at Cottage Life, we realize how hard the COVID-19 pandemic has hit local businesses. To do our part, we’ll be highlighting the stories of different businesses in cottage country. This week, we spoke with Kathryn Webber who runs The Old Tin Shed out of Bancroft, Ont.
What is The Old Tin Shed?
It’s the true cottage store that has everything from clothing, lighting, candles, goodies, and every tchotchke décor and latest cottage decorating item—and, it’s always changing. Our volumes are such that every year it’s something different. So, there’s the tried and true, like candles that people get every year, and then there’s always something new and interesting.
The business has been around for 20 years now, and it’s located in the first Catholic church in Bancroft, so it’s very iconic where it sits. We’re on highways that intersect for commuters going to Ottawa and Muskoka, and then the northern traffic going into Algonquin. Traffic volumes in the summertime are a big boost to business for us.
Our property is huge. The church itself is big, and then we have an old barn at the back where we keep antiques, and we have large gardens around the church. So, people don’t just come for a five-minute shop. It’s definitely a mingle and a walkabout.
How did the business get started?
We’re fairly new owners. We’ve only had it for two years. We were the ultimate middle-aged people that sold everything in the city to come and live at the cottage. Our kids are all grown up and we were kind of tired and drained from corporate, busy lives, and we really just wanted to live at our cottage all the time. So, we started thinking about what we can do for the next decade.
The family that owned the store—it was started by a mother and daughter, the Whiteheads, about 20 years ago—retired, and we bought it kit and caboodle, and it’s just an amazing formula and amazing customers that came with it.
What inspired the name?
It came from the store’s rustic, eclectic look. There have been two locations. The original location was a very small space that had a tin roof. The current location is like the old tin shed in that it’s got the tin roof and the little, old, red barn down the back.
What are your most popular products?
We refurbish a lot of furniture. So, buying antiques or things people discard and repainting them, and fixing them up. Every cottager has that antique chair that sits in the corner that they’re tired of but don’t want to discard. So, we give it a little facelift. We have our Fusion Mineral Paint, which is an Ontario product made by some amazing people in Toronto. We use it in the refurbishing, and we sell it.
We’re also probably one of the biggest distributors of iron hooks, knobs, brackets, hinges, latches, the kind of thing people are looking for when doing renos. The old iron stuff is definitely a draw. We get a lot of orders for it online, actually.
A lot of cottagers love our metalwork pieces. We work with an artist from B.C., a gentleman who creates moose heads and deer out of metal. We also carry a lot of local products, like soy-based candles and beeswax, and Rootham preserves and jams from the Guelph area—made by our cousin. We try to buy as much as we can that’s local.
What’s your favourite type of furniture to refurbish?
There’s this gorgeous, old, oak buffet that nobody wanted anymore, but we took a couple of drawers out, we painted it, we refurbished the oak on the top and made it into a coffee bar. Now, it’s stunning.
I love when you can save an old piece that’s been discarded on the curbside. I’ll stop my car for any good piece of pine or oak. They don’t make furniture like they used to. So, turning something that you wouldn’t put anywhere in your cottage into something that’s beautiful again, and giving it new life, that just makes me happy. We’re proud of upcycling and making beautiful pieces.
How has the pandemic affected your business?
Sadly, people aren’t travelling. They’re not going by our store. We have amazing customers that have tried to continue to support us online or calling about a product that they liked or something they saw in the summer that they didn’t have a chance to buy but now want to support us through the pandemic.
I’ve shipped products everywhere. The support is enough to make you cry. It just helps to keep the lights on. I’ve shipped products to cottagers from B.C. to Nova Scotia. That’s just amazing that they want to help. It warms your heart.
We have redesigned our website and tried to move more online, but it’s the kind of store that’s an experience. Online isn’t quite it because we’re not selling cookie-cutter things. We don’t have 100 of a product. We have four. So, the uniqueness doesn’t translate well online, unfortunately. It’s definitely been tough. The only good thing I can say is that at least the timing of when we’ve been closed isn’t during the high season. If we lose the summer, we’re pooched. Most businesses would be.
What does the future look like for The Old Tin Shed?
One of the things we had actually created was a studio space. We were wanting to do more classes and demonstrations of how to refinish furniture and how to use different products, stuff like that. And we had just finished it as COVID hit. So, we’re enjoying it for our own painting, but that wasn’t the plan. We hope that we can one day open that up and get that going.
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