Summerville's Avon Emporium owner calling it a day

Retirement party for Doris Hagmann set for Feb. 28

Ashley Thompson
Published on February 27, 2014

The Avon Emporium’s time in Summerville is coming to an end on a high note.

Owner and operator Doris Hagmann is closing the Emporium’s doors at the end of the month to enjoy the next phase of her life — retirement.

Hagmann, who turns 70 in a few months, opened the Avon Emporium with her husband upon relocatingto Canada from Switzerland in 1992.

“We came here for space and peace,” Hagmann shared in an interview.

Hagmann, an architect by trade and mother of four grown daughters, says space and peace foster creativity, and creativity has played a huge part in the evolution of the ever-changing Avon Emporium.

The Hagmann family settled on a farm in Summerville, one that still has milk goats and horses to this day, and opened the Avon Emporium in the rural West Hants community in 1993.

From the beginning, Hagmann knew she wanted the family business to be an informal gathering place for one and all.

“We felt that this community needs a place where you can meet and where you can have a chat,” she said.

The Emporium originally functioned as a hardware store. Some locals may even recall the days it housed a garden centre.

“We chose the word emporium because it gave us the opportunity to do with it whatever we wanted.”

The main component of the business is a café inspired by Hagmann’s home-style cooking. 

“My husband who, it seems, liked my food emptied the warehouse and one morning when I came here he said ‘this is going to be the café,’” she recalled.

“I had never thought in my life that I would cook and own a restaurant.”

The café has since been hailed as the eatery with the best seafood chowder in Nova Scotia in the provincial newspaper and the emporium’s Shipwright Inn has welcomed guests from around the globe.

“That was a hit and people really used it from all over the world.”

Even Rick Mercer, of CBC’s The Rick Mercer Report, visited the Avon Emporium with his film crew in tow.

“I have met so many wonderful people in here,” said Hagmann.

She says she has thoroughly enjoyed meeting tourists from near and far, but it is the Emporium’s regulars that she’ll miss most of all.

Chances are, they’ll miss her, too.

Terra Spencer, a past employee and friend of Hagmann, says the Avon Emporium is dear to her own heart largely because of the varied community activities, such as the live nativity at Christmas and Canada Day celebrations, Hagmann has happily hosted there.

“Creating a business and a life for her young family in a new culture was surely not an easy task, but Doris' commitment to this community has been evident from day one,” wrote Spencer in an e-mail to the Hants Journal.

“For families like ours, the Emporium's traditions (like our Christmas gingerbread house) have become our traditions, and Doris has maintained her vision for a community gathering place with inspiring tenacity, opening her doors for group meetings, jams, plays, yoga, musicians, artists, farmers, and belly dancers alike.”

Chris and Melissa Velden, owners of the Flying Apron Cookery Ltd., purchased the Avon Emporium. The couple is moving their restaurant business, and their family, to Summerville from the Tantallon area.

Melissa Velden says much like the Avon Emporium, the food at the Flying Apron, a business that also consists of a culinary education component, will feature locally sourced and sustainable ingredients.

Hagmann, a recipient of Millennium and Queen Elizabeth II medals, is relieved to retire knowing new life will be breathed into the Avon Emporium when she embarks on a new life of her own.

“It was a joy for me to find out that it will not just be closed.”

Hagmann hasn’t dedicated too much energy to imagining what she will do when she closes the doors at the Avon Emporium one last time. The thought of it is enough to, almost instantly, bring a tear to her eye.

Besides, she still has work to do.

“I would like to finish this to the finish and not spend lots of time already being halfway out. I owe the Avon Emporium my full attention until the last moment.”

She likens her post-Emporium years to a locked treasure box, stuffed full of mysterious appeal.

“Until you open it up you don’t know what’s in it — and I’m going to wait.”

All are welcome to attend a retirement party that will be held for Doris Hagmann at the Avon Emporium from 6:30-10 p.m. on Feb. 28.