His­toric Green’s Har­bour store still go­ing

The Compass - - TRINITY SOUTH - BY AN­DREW ROBIN­SON

Decades ago, most ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties in New­found­land and Labrador re­lied on gen­eral stores to meet all their needs. Trans­porta­tion was not as read­ily avail­able, so trips to St. John’s or re­gional cen­tres like Car­bon­ear or Bay Roberts were a rare lux­ury.

In Green’s Har­bour, E.J. Cram Ltd. has been able to keep its doors open through five gen­er­a­tions of the Cram fam­ily, start­ing with Ebenezer John Cram in 1884. The store’s 125th an­niver­sary came last year.

To­day, the busi­ness serves as a Foodex out­let, build­ing sup­plies store, and a venue for pick­ing up other odds and ends. It re­tains the gen­eral store vibe via the va­ri­ety of trin­kets it car­ries, in­clud­ing loads of cloth­ing that ap­pear to date back to the 80s and early 1990s. Enough time has passed that some of those cloth­ing items have gained a retro sheen, mak­ing them once again fash­ion­able.

“One time, we were noted to carry ev­ery­thing from a nee­dle to an an­chor, so we keep a good va­ri­ety of all stuff,” says owner Stephen “Mackie” Maxwell Cram, the grand­son of E.J. Cram.

Though he has del­e­gated many of the busi­ness-re­lated tasks to his son, Stephen Maxwell, the elder Cram still han­dles the ac­count­ing at the store.

“I was tick­led by that,” he says, re­flect­ing on his son’s in­ter­est in keep­ing E.J. Cram’s open for an­other gen­er­a­tion.

Mackie’s grand­fa­ther opened the store af­ter mov­ing to Green’s Har­bour from Old Per­li­can. He also started a sawmill busi­ness be­cause of the wealth of tim­ber in the area at the time.

A fire later de­stroyed his fam­ily home, which also housed the first store. Af­ter re­build­ing, he dis­con­tin­ued the sawmill to fo­cus on the gen­eral store and the fish­ery. He set up an ice­house for fish, and stored prod­uct there be­fore it was even­tu­ally sent on a trek to Bos­ton. E.J. Cram died in 1940 at the age of 84.

Mackie was thrust some­what sud­denly into tak­ing over the busi­ness when his fa­ther, also named Stephen, died within the span of five hours in 1956 at the age of 59. Only in his early 20s, Mackie put his en­gi­neer­ing stud­ies in Nova Sco­tia on per­ma­nent hold in or­der to take over the store. Since then, he has never looked back.

“ We’re liked here,” says Mackie, who did com­plete a sci­ence de­gree at Mount Al­li­son Uni­ver­sity with a dou­ble-ma­jor in math and physics. “ We’re de­pend­able.”

The busi­ness has gone through some dra­matic changes in that time, most no­tice­ably in 1977, when the old store caught on fire, forc­ing Mackie to move ev­ery­thing into the build­ing it oc­cu­pies to­day, which had pre­vi­ously served as a ware­house.

Sis­terly help

For the last 21 years, Mackie has re­ceived help from his el­dest sis­ter and lone sib­ling, Mona Cram, who started work­ing there full­time as soon as she re­tired from her job as a li­brar­ian in St. John’s. For many years, she has han­dled the or­der­ing of dry goods.

“Af­ter I re­tired, I thought it wasn’t right for me to be do­ing noth­ing and (Mackie) work­ing hard all day. So I came back.”

Even when she was in St. John’s, Cram re­mained in­volved with the fam­ily busi­ness, pick­ing up items in St. John’s for the store and mak­ing week­end trips to Green’s Har­bour. Those week­end trips were not al­ways easy in the win­ter, with mul­ti­ple shov­els on standby in case a road needed to be cleared by hand.

Her bond with her brother ap­pears to be an im­por­tant one, and Cram says she has also felt a sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity when it comes to be­ing a big sis­ter.

“ When dad went, there was only Mackie, I, and mom. When I was go­ing to school, mom would say, ‘ Take care of Mackie,’ be­cause he’s younger. I used to like some of the things he en­joyed when he was a teenager. Some­times I would go trout­ing with him ... we’d have a great time, one way or an­other.”

Mackie’s son, Maxwell, says he was in­ter­ested in some­day tak­ing over the fam­ily busi­ness “right from day one.” He val­ues its his­toric place in Green’s Har­bour, and has many mem­o­ries from grow­ing up as part of the busi­ness.

“I worked in the shop from the age I was able to lift any­thing,” he says. “I al­ways used to go on the truck with the boys and help un­load. I’ve been do­ing that since I was 12 or 13 years old.”

Since tak­ing over day-to-day op­er­a­tions, Maxwell has built up the build­ing sup­plies side of the busi­ness to ben­e­fit from the lo­cal build­ing boom, and he says the re­sults have cer­tainly helped E.J. Cram Ltd.

“It’s my gen­er­a­tion now that’s out there and build­ing, and where I’m here, they’re all com­ing to see me, be­cause I went to school with them, or they re­mem­ber me as a young fella.”

Maxwell has two chil­dren, daugh­ter Macken­zie Cram and son An­drew Cram, and though he would never force ei­ther of them to takeover the fam­ily busi­ness, he says his son has al­ready shown an in­ter­est at the age of five.

“ You ask him to­day what he’s go­ing to do, and he’ll say, ‘I want to drive the fork­lift like my fa­ther’,” laughs Maxwell. “ That’s all he sees me do­ing some­times. He seems like he has an in­ter­est in build­ing sup­plies. He’s al­ways out with his ham­mer and nails.”

Stephen “Mackie” Maxwell Cram (left) has owned EJ Cram Ltd. for 54 years, and still works there along­side his only sib­ling, sis­ter Mona Cram. The gen­eral store has been a sta­ple of Green’s Har­bour since 1884.

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