From fires to frozen pipes, the owners of the Kalamalka General Store have seen it all — most of it over the course of 10 months.
But Michelle Mitchell and Kevin O’Brien say despite equipment meltdowns, flooding and a host of other water woes, they still have a year’s worth of reasons to toast the day they decided to take over the popular Kalamalka Lake Road spot. To help them celebrate their one-year anniversary as owners of the Coldstream-based business, Mitchell and O’Brien are inviting the community to come to the store today for coffee and crepes.
Nestled at a cozy, sunlit table in the “inspiration corner” of the adjoining cafe, the aptly named Rail Trail Cafe, which they opened to complement the “community feel” of the store itself, Mitchell and O’Brien said they have been spending some time reflecting on their, “unpredictable and awesome,” first year operating their latest ventures.
“It was kind of like one long episode of This Old House,” Mitchell laughed. “We kind of knew we it would be a lot when we took over this place — it was in a bit of disrepair — we dealt with everything from electrical to plumbing issues, but in the end, it was also the best kind of adventure.”
The pair, who moved to Vernon from Ohio in 2009 (though they both originally hail from B.C.), bought the space next to the general store in 2009, renovated and opened it up as Kalavida Surf Shop.
“We moved here because we both had family here,” Mitchell said.
“We didn’t really have friends or a community to belong to, but once we opened the shop we found all these like-minded people, people who are into water and sports and the environment — and this place (the shop) began to feel more like a gathering place for a community we really love.”
In fact, O’Brien added, it was the desire to expand their community that inspired them to take on the General Store.
Mitchell says for the last few years they have been “dreaming” of eventually purchasing the General Store from the family that had been running it for several years, and making it their own.
“It’s been a bit of a crazy year,” O’Brien said. “When we decided to buy this part of the building, it seemed to make sense to us. It just felt like a good fit to take on this side of the business one day.”
“The previous owners were great,”Mitchell added.“When they decided to sell it to us they were really helpful and got us going our first month — they taught us a lot.”
By November, O’Brien said they were ready to strike out on their own operating the popular spot, and on a whim, decided to add on the cafe.
“We didn’t necessarily start out with the idea of turning a part of the store into a cafe, although there was a bakery and deli in that space at one time. But we would look over in the morning and see this morning light coming in this one spot, and thought how nice it would be to serve great coffee and set up a few tables and chairs. But that was it.”
The project grew, into a full-on cafe after they consulted with a close friend.
“Our friend, Shea (Ferguson), came to us and offered to help us with the renovations — but we had six weeks to do it because she had to go away for several months after that,” he added.“It’s been a bit of a crazy year.”
That’s when things began to go less smoothly for the “art-focused” couple.
They faced a bitter winter that left the building with frozen pipes and no running water between December and March. With the spring thaw, came the spring flood — and with Vernon Creek running directly beneath their building, Mitchell said, it gave new meaning to the phrase ‘close call.’
Buying the building might have been more than they bargained for, she noted, but by the summer they had come out with a fully renovated store and cafe they hope will become a beloved community hub.
“We consider ourselves to be big on community and that’s what we want for this place — to see it grow and evolve as the community itself does,” Mitchell continued.
“We have people coming in all the time asking for things or giving suggestions for things we could do or items we could carry in the store, and we listen and really want to engage,” she said.
The addition of music/entertainment once a month at the cafe, an expanded produce section and more bike racks out front, are just a few additions Mitchell and O’Brien are considering.
“We want to grow slowly and hear from the community and engage with them so we can offer something the community wants,” said Mitchell.
One project the couple is undertaking is reaching out to the community for stories, and photos of the original store. Mitchell plans to curate any historically significant items or photos and record stories, in an effort to preserve the store’s rich and unique history.
“We get people in their 80s coming in, that remember coming here in the late 1930s and telling us what it was like. It’s pretty interesting, and I think it’s important to get this stuff recorded, for the community.”
If you have a photo of the original store or a story to tell, Mitchell and O’Brien want to hear it, and encourage the community to come to the Coldstream store (13904 Kalamalka Rd.) after 7 a.m. today to celebrate the anniversary.