When Simcoe County Co-operative store, a rural mainstay on Innisfil St for three decades, closed its doors last August, it was another nail in our retail coffin. Gone, overnight it seemed, with manager Barry Leigh, a 30 year veteran and manager with the store, out of work like everyone else. Barry negotiated an eight hour window to call farmers with paid feed orders and small business owners with paid lawn care orders so they could retrieve their goods. And then the staff, many of them two-decade personnel, were paid by the hour to empty the store.

It was a sad ending for an operation that was certainly an Allandale anchor for years and years.

The Co-op was one of those magical places. Horse and cattle feed, pet food, lawn seed and fertilzer, a garden centre, hardware items, work clothes, rubber boots... sort of your Druckers of the north. It was from the Co-op that the City of Barrie bought all its grass seed and fertilizer for city parks.

What made the Co-op is the same thing that makes Robinson's Hardware, Golds Shoe Repair and a few other retail nuggets still left... service, value, and retail relationships. Nestled on acres of land, across from the old Copaco building which now houses a tresure trove of antiques, the Co-op's closed doors left an emptiness in Allandale and a hole for those of us who like doing business with people who remember our names.

All year the gloomy, empty building, has reminded us of changing retail times.

So, you can imagine the excitement three months later when Country Depot (based in Winnipeg) called Barry Leigh at home and asked him if he'd like to come back and re-open the store, with a whole new look and some new mechandise.

Barry has been quietly setting things up. The horse feed section. The new greenhouse which offers an exceptional variety of garden perennials and annuals, shrubs and trees. The cattle feed section. Pet food. Some garden furniture. Home tools like rakes and shovels. Work clothes for men and women. Rubber boots. Bird seed.

While he was working with Country Depot to develop a 'Barrie' look, Barry Leigh was quietly calling his staff back. He's thrilled that 95% of them are on the floor today, in a bright, clean, exciting new store. Not so big you get lost, not so small to limit selection. The store opened quietly last week.

Barry said that since they opened last week, he's been hugged more times by former customers who are absolutely thrilled to be able to come back. They've been driving to Alliston and Elmvale for horse feed. They were thrilled to hear that Eric is still there to handle horse enquiries AND to load purchases right into the car. In fact, there are no buggies at Country Depot... that's because Sylvia in the garden centre, or Eric, or Carol or Barry himself make sure your purchases get to your car by the Country Depot staff. It's just how business is done.

Since signing an agreement to open the store last January, Barry has been a busy guy. This is Country Depot's first corporate store and Barry knows how to cater to Barrie, if you know what I mean.

He says the shelves have 15-20% new items, but old customers can expect to find what they used to find AND a few surprises in the bargain!

By official opening today, the team expects to have everything operating smoothly. They expect a busy parking lot as people re-discover that while the old store is gone, the new store has the 'old' people in it.

Barry's hoping that Barrie residents will indeed say welcome in a meaningful way. Country Depot is a Canadian company and they've put out a lot of money to open their first retail location here. "We're hoping that by pricing things competitively and giving that service that we're famous for, people will support this new venture in this old location," he said.

Hours are great... 8 am to 7 pm Monday to Wednesday, 8 am to 9 pm Thursday and Friday, 8 to 5 on Saturday and 9 to 4 on Sunday.

Thanks, Barry. Thanks for keeping your enthusiasm and commitment! And thanks to your whole team!

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