If you find yourself in Bridgetown, NS, you will come to a miss-it-if-you-blink stretch of the “downtown” where a collection of pretty, little shops tempts you to linger and browse. There’s Endless Shores Books & Other Treasures, and Talullah Freelove Linen. Further down Granville Street and on nearby Queen Street, there’s Dawn Oman Art, Angela Prive Glass Art, and Wools On The Corner.
But if you do hang around any one of these crafty enclaves of entrepreneurship, you may not find that their proprietors are always available to take your money. They may be phoning or Facebooking each other. Or they may be sitting together at nearby Aroma Mocha Café, sipping tea and plotting the future of the town they love. If that’s so, you’d be wise to wait. In fact, you’d better stay put, if you know what’s good for you.
Meet Bridgetown’s newest civic improvement team: Jennifer Crouse of Endless, Trudy White of Tallulah, Caroline Perriman of Wools, Laura Ricketts of Aroma, Dawn Oman, and Angela Prive. In just the past few months, these enterprising women—all small business owners—have embarked on a self-appointed mission to transform this Annapolis Valley village of 970 souls from the cartographic afterthought history and circumstance have conspired to make it into something simply, well, irresistible.
“Absolutely, we mean to turn this place into a real destination,” Jennifer says.
“We’re going to put this town on the map,” Angela adds.
“So we should, because what we offer is special,”
“People don’t know how much we have available here,” Caroline agrees.
“Half the fun is getting here,” Dawn says. “You can visit a winery. You can go whale watching. Then you can stop here and make a day of it. We’re a mini staycation.”
Jointly and independently, they promote the town’s amenities and attractions to locals and visitors alike—extolling its peerless quality of life; highlighting its heritage buildings and museums; pointing out its historic walks, trails, and stunning views; and emphasizing just how hip the place is becoming thanks, in part, to them.
“The new enterprises that have sprung up—started primarily by women—bring something unique to the table,” says Trudy, who opened her store front in July to complement and expand the business she’d been running online from her home in town for two years. “I import linen and other natural fibres, like cashmere and bamboo. I’m starting to see people who choose to come to the community to come to my store. There’s a lot that’s happened in a short period, and I’m excited about it.”
That wasn’t always the case, Laura notes: “It doesn’t feel like this now, but not long ago, you had to leave here to get anything more than just the basics.”
Not long ago, indeed.
In 2011, Bridgetown actually lost its right to be called much of anything except a source of troubling speculation by the national media. According to a CBC item on May 25 that year, “Thieves have discouraged a Windsor, NS, business from expanding into Annapolis County, representing the loss of hundreds of jobs for the Bridgetown area.”
Less than a week later, the CBC reported: “The entire council and mayor of [Bridgetown] has resigned over [its] ongoing financial problems. [They] announced they were stepping down because of the ‘magnitude and complexity’ of the money woes and the lack of financial and human resources to manage them.”
Three years after that, the public broadcaster reported, “Bridgetown [has] passed a motion to fill an application with the province’s Utility and Review Board to dissolve [its] status as a town. ‘[We are] facing significant financial challenges and we do not believe the status quo is an option for residents,’ said Mayor Horace Hurlburt.”
Gathering at the bookshop for a catchup.
To be sure, Bridgetown—now a part of the larger Municipality of the County of Annapolis—once had its day in the sun. According to the community’s website, it was settled in the early 19th Century and formally incorporated in 1897. The Windsor and Annapolis Railway ran its main line through there. Both Canadian Pacific and Canadian National operated trunks until the late 20th century.
Hosting, by turns, a brick factory, soda pop maker, distillery, and innumerable apple warehouses, the town had been a “natural commercial center, collecting the region’s products for export, and distributing its imports…a natural place for manufacturing enterprises to begin.” Plus, shipping along the Annapolis River produced “an era of prosperity that left a legacy of handsome homes, still to be admired.”
Team Bridgetown, of course, prefers to focus on the future, and each other. Wherever and whenever they can, they push each other’s products. Jennifer boosts books on “The History and Techniques of Handknitted Footwear,” which can only get shoppers in the mood for Caroline’s fine yarns. Angela, meanwhile, peppers her FB page with free promos for Jennifer (“If you’re in Bridgetown swing by this amazing bookstore,”) as hashtags for Trudy’s Tallulah abound.
Angela, who was born in New Glasgow, and spent much of her adult life as an aviation and oil patch worker out west, arrived in Bridgetown only last year. “I’d ended up with a head injury after a bad workplace accident in 2017 and I couldn’t relate to my career anymore,” she says. “But I always loved doing art, so I figured I might as well do something that
She also loved the Annapolis Valley and thought the Evangeline Trail, with its drive-by traffic, was a great place to set up her business making whimsical, colourful fused-glass objets d’arts (coasters, night lights, tree ornaments, among others). “I’d actually purchased my home from Trudy’s family,” she says. “So, she and I got to talking one day and it turned out that we were both looking for retail spaces in Bridgetown. I said to Trudy, ‘Hang on a second…did you know all these shops [there] are owned by female entrepreneurs?’
I opened up mine in May.”
Trudy, who specializes in ethically made ladies’ apparel and accessories, laughs. Only 10 years ago, if you’d asked her whether she’d ever return to Bridgetown, where she was born and raised, she’d have shaken her head. “I left when I was 17,” she says. “I worked primarily in Montreal for a software company that developed systems for large retailers. I’d been in and around the fashion business for 25 years. I only came back five years ago when I was 57…. We all come back ultimately, you know?”
Still, she says, coming home, “there was an opportunity to get into the retail business and things just fell into place….
I mean, Angela and I are not as well established as the other three. Caroline, Jennifer and Dawn have been around for a few years. But we’re all still small enough and close enough that we can share our successes and failures and fun.”
Not that there’s been much failure recently. And fun?
Dawn Oman bought the decommissioned United Church building in Bridgetown in 2014. She’s been renovating and transforming it into a gallery and meeting space for herself, other artists, and members of the community. “This place is quite the venue,” she says. “We have so many bookings. Almost every day, somebody calls to see if they can have the place for a wedding or concert. The acoustics are just delightful.”
Business isn’t bad either. With an already impressive roster of clients for, and reviews of, her paintings and designs, the First Nations artist moved to Nova Scotia from Yellowknife for family reasons in 2010. She says having digs in Bridgetown has actually helped boost her prospects. “I think what’s happening is that more and more people are discovering me. I dropped out of Yellowknife and was completely anonymous at first. Then, word got out. Now, plenty of people from Yellowknife and the north come to visit me, almost every single week. It’s so nice.”
Caroline Perriman—who was born in Montreal—settled in Bridgetown nearly two decades ago with her husband, who’d been posted to Canadian Forces Base Greenwood. She’s also delighted by what she’s seen recently in town. “Last night, I went up to play tennis at the club, and there was a soccer game going on,” she says. “There were little kids running around playing in the leaves. It was perfect. I think we’re going to see an influx of people coming, and just being curious…. Like, ‘okay, what is happening in Bridgetown?’”
She can feel the vitality in her own business, Wools on the Corner, which she started in 2014 as a knitting and rug hooking supply shop. “When I first opened, there was really only myself, the Salvation Army, and a variety store around here. My place is very tiny, but I have a lot more things happening now. I’ve had so many customers recently. I’ve expanded and now I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to put out more wool. It might have to hang from the rafters.”
New Brunswicker Jennifer Crouse—who moved here with her husband 12 years ago—knows the feeling. In an industry infamous for its shrinkage, her Endless Shores is going gangbusters. “It’s 3,000 square feet, and two stories,” she says. “I think people get overwhelmed just with the first floor. Then I’ll tell them there’s an upstairs and their jaws just kind of drop. We have over 70,000 books. I mean, it’s huge.”
As for the momentum everywhere in town, she says, “I think the opportunities happened at the right time. There’s just been a kind of boom.”
Perhaps, but she’d also be the last to call any of it purely coincidental. She just spent a small fortune having a muralist cover all two floors of her exterior, outside wall with a depiction of four books, their spines facing incoming traffic. Just in case motorists fail to get the point about her bookstore—and, indeed, Bridgetown—one of them is 14 feet tall. “Maybe next summer, I can get a few more panels put up,” she says. “Yeah, I’m pretty excited.”
And so it goes, says Laura Ricketts, who moved here from the Ottawa Valley five years ago. She bought Aroma Mocha last year from a member of the local chamber of commerce. “I’ve actually gotten more involved with that organization,” she says. “I signed on as the treasurer this year. And Caroline sits on it very actively. So we’re all really doing what we can.”
No economic metrics are yet available—no hard and fast numbers can yet be crunched—to prove that Crouse, White, Perriman, Ricketts, Oman, and Prive are making a durable, long-term difference to the commercial, social, and cultural well-being of the town they love. But you can feel something in the air around here.
There’s a kind of lightness and bounce in the way they FB Messenger each other or gather at Laura’s café. There’s a certain brio in the way they fling open the doors of their shops—weather be damned—and holler at each other for morning check in. And there’s a priceless quality of grace in their determination to promote each other’s businesses on social media, and to your face as you reach for your wallet.
For that, if you ever find yourself in Bridgetown, you’ll want to hang around if you know what’s good for you.