By Vivian Collings
Owners John and Robyn Thomas of Stedmans V&S Department Store chose to close their doors in the heart of downtown Minden for the last time.
The couple has a 29-year history of owning and managing the store with the help of their three children, and officially closed on Tuesday, Sept. 27.
“We’ve had quite a lot of customers come in teary-eyed, which makes us a little teary-eyed. We have had some mixed feelings about this, but this is a step that we feel is right timing to make this change. Customers have been so supportive coming in and wishing us well,” Robyn said.
The time was right for John and Robyn to take some time for themselves and be able to spend more time with family.
“We haven’t had a holiday in about four years. We’ve been so busy with the store, so we decided to just take a few months, do some travelling, enjoy time with our three children, our son-in-law, and our little granddaughter. We’re looking forward to having a lot more time for things like that.”
The couple is from opposite sides of the world, but equally enjoyed living and working in the Minden area after a few moves and travels.
“I’m from New Zealand, and John is from Bobcaygeon. We met on a beach in Sydney, Australia. We backpacked around the world together and then settled in Bobcaygeon,” Robyn said.
They owned a business in Bobcaygeon for 10 years before moving back to New Zealand.
“I wanted the kids to experience Kiwi life, so we went back to New Zealand, and then he decided to come back to Canada, so we moved to Haliburton County and bought the store in 1994.”
They always admired the Haliburton Highlands and decided to pursue a new life here.
“We used to bring the kids up for drives to enjoy the wildlife. Once we came back from New Zealand, we knew we still wanted the small-town, rural life, so at the time we looked around for a business to purchase.”
Stedmans on Bobcaygeon Road in Minden happened to be for sale at the same time.
“We talked to our three kids because they were all in public school, and decided this was going to be a lovely family venture for us all.”
The couple now plans to semi-retire and also dust off some of their old passions, but continue to live in the area.
“John is a history buff and he loves travelling, so we’d like to get back to doing some travelling. He also really loves the outdoors, so he hopes to get back to doing those things he loves.”
Robyn was previously a writer and even wrote human interest stories for the Times and Echo a few years ago.
“I’ve been wanting to get back to the writer life. I’ve been in business for my whole marriage, but now I’m going back to my first love which was writing and photography.”
Robyn also used to write for New Zealand newspapers about what life was like living in Canada.
“We’re both wanting to pursue those passions that we really enjoyed in the past.”
Their three grown children, Larissa, Brock, and Ainslie, all attended Archie Stouffer Elementary School and then Haliburton Highlands Secondary School.
“Our three kids grew up working in the store from a pretty young age. They started out stocking shelves and helping us on buying trips to pick the best toys; board games, water toys, and things like that because they were kids and they knew what other kids would like as well. Even when they were in high school, they were all working for us and lended a hand while in university when we needed it.”
The business was a perfect place to stay close to their own family but also served as a gathering place for others.
“For us, that’s been quite lovely. Stedmans has been a very family oriented business. We’ve had so many customers come in, generations of them, and both locals and cottagers. The grandparents come in with their kids, and then they come in with the little ones. We’ve seen so many of the kids that came in when they were younger now coming in with their own families.”
Robyn and John would like to give a big thanks to all of their loyal staff and customers over the past three decades.
“I want to give a really big shout out to our staff, too. We’ve had wonderful staff over the years. They’ve been a huge part of making the store successful and a place where people want to come. Our customers have also been so loyal and so supportive for so long. It’s been fabulous. John and I just feel so blessed for having these great years here.”
The new owners will keep the Stedmans V&S name for the time being and will be transitioning and preparing the store for the next week before opening officially.