It was a family decision. A few months ago, Didi Calhoun spent an evening with her three sons discussing her options in addressing the upcoming renewal of her franchise agreement with Sobey’s for her Foodland store in Millbrook.
In its 45th year of operation by the Calhoun family, Didi wanted to make the decision with her family, who grew up in the business. Of course she had examined the issue of retirement for many years, looking at it as she says “from all four corners”. But this year there was something serendipitous in the dates, but you’ll have to ask her to explain that.
It was on December 3, 1973 that a young couple, Ken and Didi Calhoun, purchased Whitmore’s Grocery on Centre Street in Millbrook. They were both experienced in the grocery business, and had originally planned to open a butcher shop, but instead took on the local grocery store. In 1977 the couple built a new store on the existing site and started a family, but things changed abruptly with Ken’s sudden death on Thanksgiving Day 1980 of a heart attack. Didi decided to take control of the business, an unusual step for a new widow with three children under the age of four. She met with the bank asking them to give her a chance to keep the business, and they did. That support in her time of need resulted in a loyalty to the TD Bank that continues to this day.
Because of the demands of the business Didi explains that the family all raised each other. They were always on call. She fondly recalls the weekend she and her boys were dressed in bathing suits headed for the Cobourg beach when a call came in that one of the freezers had broken down. Their travel plans quickly changed and they headed to the store to transfer product to other freezers, shivering in their bathing suits clinging to the prospect of the visit to the beach.
It wasn’t just her family that was important. When provincial legislation changed to allow Sunday shopping hours, Didi was reluctant to buy in, believing staff needed that day for their own families. When she did open on Sunday, Didi was at the store herself, making sure she did not ask her staff to do something that she would not.
Hers was a business that supported the community in many ways both public and private. From sponsoring minor hockey teams to funding annual Gingerbread house contests, Didi did her part and more.
In the township video produced last year, Didi made reference to her thoughts about retirement, saying “When it’s time for me to hang up my shingles and say my “best before” date is showing, it will be the end of an era.” And it is indeed.
On June 2nd, there will be a clean break, as Sobey’s assigns a corporate manager to run the store until a suitable new franchisee is selected. While she will be available to answer questions, Didi emphasizes that there will be no round two for her, and she is quite prepared for the new owners to take the store in a new direction and make their own mark on the business.
In addition to having the freedom to spend more time with family, she looks forward to a French manicure that lasts for more than 24 hours. Despite that thought, with her energy and enthusiasm it likely won’t take long before she finds something else to do where she can get her hands dirty. Thanks for everything, Didi. You will be missed. KG