Food for thought
Port Morien grocery stores filled with stories
It’s hard to imagine Port Morien with numerous grocery stores, but that’s the way it was back in the 1930s when the Shore family of Glace Bay expanded its retail operation to our village.
They set up shop in the former O.J. Spencer’s store, the site of the former Hopkins Garage. Shortly after, they moved to a building they had purchased from Ed Peters on the corner of Main and Breakwater Streets. Simon Landry had operated a store on the site. Lobster cannery operator Alfred Trenholm purchased it, and it was sold to Peters. Offering a large variety of goods for sale, the Shore’s store became very successful and they employed a number of local residents.
In the early 1940s, a young man by the name of Donald “Hopper” MacLeod arrived at Shore’s to work as a meat cutter. He had previously worked in that trade at Harry Samuels’ Meat Market in Glace Bay, which was owned by his grandfather. He later worked at Shore’s in Glace Bay. Hopper eventually set down roots in Port Morien. He married Ruth Peach, and they had three children – Donald, Bucky (Laird), and Betty. After a few years, Hopper became manager at Shore’s.
Business was good for a number of years, but the grocery business was changing. In the 1960s, larger stores offering lower prices and greater variety started to appear in local urban centers. By the late 1960s, Shores decided to close the Morien operation, so Hopper purchased the business.
Hopper was a good businessman and good at promoting his business. Bucky delivered flyers advertising weekly specials to local households. Hopper posted notices in the window and had an outdoor sign highlighting products for sale. “Fresh Meat a Specialty” was his theme. He offered a service that was common at the time. If you called Hopper’s with your grocery list, the staff would pack your “order,” as it was called, and deliver it the same day. It arrived in cardboard boxes, with fresh meat wrapped in paper tied with string. Over the years, he diversified; selling wood stoves, clothing and dry goods. He also partnered with Harold Wadden to operate a local store called “Modern Clothing.”
In 1979, a windstorm caused severe damage to the store and it needed major repairs. Hopper had the entire upper floor removed. For him, it was business as usual. During this time, he’d be waiting on customers while wearing a snowsuit, with part of the store open to the winter weather as workers made necessary repairs.
Hopper was truly a character. He had a great sense of humour and enjoyed a good time. He was also a dedicated community volunteer. He served as fire chief and president of the community fair. He was an avid outdoorsman, active in the Fish and Game Association. He was one of the founders of the Eastern Suburban Little league and coached the Port Morien team. On warm summer nights, you’d see Hopper’s pickup truck, with wooden cab and benches, filled with young baseball players heading to their next game. While in his 70s, Hopper was cited for bravery. He rescued his good friend Wendell McDonald from drowning while fishing close to Wendell’s home.
By the 1990s, age was beginning to catch up with Hopper. His children were always involved in the operation of the store, and they gradually took on more responsibilities. Hopper made daily appearances at the store well into his 80s,
but he was noticeably slowing down. He died in 2000, leaving behind countless stories, some legendary, of his many years in Port Morien.
Bucky and Betty, with help from Donald, took over the operation. They continued to serve the community faithfully, offering excellent service; selling tickets and goods for every organization and promoting anything that went on. The store was a local gathering place, where people exchanged news of the day. It had evolved to a convenience store, but it was hard to compete with larger businesses in Glace Bay. In 2011, Port Morien’s last store, Hopper’s Grocery, closed its doors.
Upon entering the store, the common question of many customers was, “How are things, Hopper?” His reply was always the same. “All the time good; some days better than others.”
That pretty well sums up Hopper, his family, and his business that served this community so diligently and devotedly for almost 70 years.
Hopper is shown behind the counter at the store.
This was Shore’s Store.