Historic Green’s Harbour store still going
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.
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.