After an abrupt closure on January 8, Robinson’s General Store in Dorset, Ont. is expected to reopen on Friday under new ownership.
In a Facebook post, former owner Joanne Robinson wrote: “After having been owned and operated by our family for 100 years (1921 to 2021), we were, like all of you, disappointed and devastated when we learned that our beloved Robinson’s General Store closed in January. Since then, we have been working hard in the background to find a solution to allow the business to reopen. We understand the inconvenience this closure has caused the community, and we thank you for your patience during this difficult time.
“Today, we are pleased to announce that a new family, led by brothers Ven Komina and Satya Jyesta, is taking over the operation of Robinson’s General Store.”
Over the last 100 years, four generations of Robinsons have worked at the store. It started as a 1,200 sq. ft. business serving the local logging industry and has grown into 14,000 sq. ft. of retail space, selling groceries, hardware supplies, branded apparel, cottage décor, and, of course, ice cream. In the summers, the store employs 65 workers, many of them students. But despite the store’s success, Joanne Robinson and her husband, Willie Hatton, decided it was time to retire. In April 2021, the Robinsons sold the store to Mike and Katie Hinbest from Orangeville, Ont.
After a year and a half of operating the store, the Hinbests ran into financial trouble and were forced to foreclose. Since the Robinson’s had bought the store’s mortgage from the bank, the property defaulted back to them, sending the family in search of new owners.
Brad Robinson, Joanne’s father, who operated the store from the mid-1950s until 1991, suspects that the Hinbests struggled because they purchased both the general store and the local marina. “That marina took so much of [Hinbest’s] time, and they spent so much money over there,” Robinson says. Financing the two businesses with inflation and rising interest rates made mortgage payments unaffordable.
When the store closed, locals were left stranded. “We didn’t realize that it would basically shut the town down. People had to go to Huntsville or Bracebridge to do their grocery and hardware shopping,” Robinson says. “Everybody in the area is happy to see that new owners will be taking over, and they’re going to run it similar to the way we ran it.”
When the store went back up for sale in January, Ven Komina and Satya Jyesta approached the Robinsons with an offer. The two brothers own and operate a number of convenience stores in the North Bay area and purchased the Baysville General Store last year. “It isn’t a complete change for them,” Robinson says, “but the stores they’ve run aren’t as big as the store we have, so it’s going to keep them busy.”
The two brothers take possession of the store on Friday and plan to open it the same day. “They’re just having a soft opening at first,” Robinson says. “There won’t be any major produce or stuff like that, but they’re going to have milk and bread, and there’s canned food that was left there on the shelves.”
Over the last two months, Robinson has been going to the store everyday, in part for insurance reasons, but also to maintain the property. The family purged any expired food and staged the store for potential buyers. “It’s ready to go,” he says. “All they’ll need is a good order of groceries, you know, meat and vegetables, and hardware supplies, and they’ll be in business.”
Robinson has one piece of advice for the new owners: be on-site as much as possible. “People are giving you thousands of dollars a year. You have to be there to show your appreciation,” he says. “That’s what small businesses are all about. That’s how small businesses survive.”
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