Published on May 24, 2014
Royce Elderkin, left, continues to serve the community after 65 years at the Little River general store. Gareth Elderkin helps his father in the store after coming in from a day of lobstering. - Karla Kelly photo
Published on May 24, 2014
Summer resident Doug Hennigar, right, enjoys a chat with Royce Elderkin while stocking up on a few groceries.
Karla Kelly photo
Published on May 24, 2014
A receipt of payment from Bowman Collins to master builder B.A. Letteney for work completed in 1925 was found in the books at Little River Trading Co. - Karla Kelly photo
Turning the key to the front door of the store, Royce Elderkin steps into the Little River business that has given him more than a lifetime of employment and continues to do so at an age when many folks have long since retired.
At 85, Elderkin still puts in a day’s work at Little River Trading Co., a general store where he has served the community and beyond for over 65 years.
“The store, located at the corner of Hwy 217 and the Shore Road in Little River, is the longest running business of its kind on Digby Neck,” said Elderkin. “Bowman Collins built the store in 1906 and it has continuously served customers up and down the Neck for 108 years.”
Elderkin began working for his uncle, Lyndon Collins, at L.B. Collins Ltd. in 1948. Collins had taken over the village store from his father, Bowman Collins.
“I spent the first 11 years of my life in Mink Cove, and then my family moved to Hantsport during the war,” said Elderkin “When I was 19, I had planned to go out west to work but my travel partner got sick, so I took my uncle up on his offer to come work for him with a chance to have shares in the business.”
Elderkin said he received $18 a week, five of which was paid to his Aunt Christina and Uncle Lyndon for room and board.
“I learned just about every aspect of the business starting off with how to sweep the wooden floor properly,” he said. “You didn’t forget how to do it because it was a frequent job.”
When his uncle began selling a variety of meats, the young employee soon learned the meat cutting trade.
“I learned how to measure and cut lumber, ropes, pipes, flooring and glass,” he said. “I also drove the freight and delivery truck for the store, where I met up with a lot of interesting folk in Digby and on the Neck.”
The store sold everything imaginable, and if Collins didn’t stock it, he’d find it for his customers, Elderkin said.
Along with a full stock of grocery items, L.B. Collins sold all types of fishing gear, Christmas decorations, men’s pants, hats and boots, as well as women’s under clothing.
“Food, such as molasses, was sold in bulk as it was cheaper that way and we would pump kerosene into the jugs customers brought in,” Elderkin said. “We sold McColl Frontenac gasoline for 29 cents a gallon from old fashioned hand pumps in front of the store.”
In the years before the main highway on Digby Neck was paved, L.B. Collins Ltd. was very important to the community, Elderkin explained.
“People didn’t get up the Neck very often and they relied on us to provide the goods they needed,” he said. “The store was the center of the community and it could be a beehive at times.”
Saturday was the busiest time of the week and Elderkin recalled the time Collins’ Saturday routine was upset.
“It was 1961, and my wife Joan, who also worked at the store, was expecting our first child,” he said. “It turned out that I had to take her to the hospital to have the baby, and unfortunately for my uncle, it was a Saturday.”
Collins didn’t appreciate being left shorthanded, and afterwards, he told Elderkin, “Of all the days of the week to have a baby, she had to pick a Saturday.”
“I guess Uncle Lyndon had to leave the office to work out front that day,” he chuckled.
During the heydays of the big fishing draggers in the 1960s and 1970s, business at the store was really booming, recalled Elderkin.
“Little River was a prosperous community back then and the store reaped the benefits of a good economy,” he said.
When Collins retired and moved to Digby in 1975, the business changed hands and the store became known as Little River Trading Co.
The Elderkins continued to manage the store, although Elderkin worked on a part-time basis while he tried his hand at cutting fish along with weir and lobster fishing for the next five years.
In January 1984, the Elderkins took over the business and stocked it mainly with groceries. Gear for the fishermen was also readily available.
“The loss of the fishing draggers hit the business hard, but over the years, we’ve catered to the lobster fishermen and have relied on them quite heavily. We make sure we have what they need to save them a trip to Digby.”
While Elderkin feels it is hard to grow a business in a small community like Little River, he does not anticipate the store closing anytime soon.
“If we closed the store, it would hurt the community especially the fishermen,” he said. “The store has been the biggest part of my life and my four children have plans for its future.”