There’s a small white building at the corner of Hwy 8 and Provincial Road 222.
Kitty corner from the Hnausa General Store.
When I was a child, that white store was Stefanson and Son General Store, however, most people referred to the store as “Stefan’s.”
I grew up near Hnausa and Hnausa Beach Provincial Park – and the dock. A 10-minute bike ride from my house. The cold from Lake Winnipeg often left a chill in the air until May – and sometimes June. It depended on the chunks of ice. People would dunk their nets or cast their rods wearing either heavy jackets or t-shirts.
One constant was Stefan’s store. The only thing that changed was the colour of the store. Until the early-90s, the store had a Walmart blue door, which matched the bottom half of the building.
Stefan Stefanson was the owner, a gruff and tough man with a heart of gold. While tallying my Mom’s purchases, he’d allow my older sister, Jenn, and I behind the counter to choose from an array of chocolate bars, bubblegum, and novelty candies – such as candy necklaces.
During the summer when Jenn and I were in Hnausa Day Camp, my Mom would make a morning pit stop so we could get a little treat. We’d arrive at camp with lipstick candy and lollipop rings. Stefan’s store used to have a go-cart track behind his store. As camp was winding down, the older kids were could be heard for miles zipping on that track. Stefan shut those go-carts down soon after, deeming them a liability. Stefan’s was the only place to buy gas in Hnausa, but those tanks were more of a hassle. He let them run dry, and then kept them for decorative purposes.
The freezers would’ve been a nightmare to defrost with at least six-inches of ice around the sides. Mom would whisper, “We’ll get ice cream at Orzeck’s.”
Ah, Orzeck’s. The other store in Hnausa – on the Hnausa-Finns border. Where you could purchase fresh bread, milk, chunks of Old Country bologna, and drumsticks and Fudgsicles – from a frost free freezer. The Orzeck’s were a kind couple and their home was connected to their house. Whereas Stefan lived in a small house less than 100 feet from his store. Orzeck’s was spotless with the smell of a grandmother’s house.
But nothing compared to Stefan’s store.
Stefan’s had everything the ’80s could offer. At the back of the store were 25-cent video games and pinball machines – plus a one-dollar per game pool table.
I remember on cold winter nights when my older sister and I were bored, we’d beg Dad, “Please take us to Stefan’s.” We would spend hours playing video games, buying 45-cent bars and 50-cent pops. My Dad and Stefan would talk and talk and talk, until my sister and I begged Dad to take us home.
Mom would take us to Stefan’s if she needed 7-up and Pepsi and – if Orzeck’s were closed – rye bread. Stefan would let Jennifer and I behind the counter to pick a treat. Mom would buy us one and he would buy the other – which made us feel special. It was a challenge to choose from Stefan’s selection of chocolate bars: Aero; Mint Aero; Mr. Big; Four Flavours; Cherry Blossom; Wunderbar; Twix; Sweet Marie; Oh Henry; Mars; Snickers; Laura Secord French Mint; Jersey Milk; Bounty; Crunchy; Zero; Flaky; Three Musketeers; Eat-More; and more. Plus, flavour upon flavour of gum. Even the short-lived chocolate flavoured Hubba Bubba.
And Stefan had a strange chocolate bar called Palomine. We loved that bar – until my dad was about to eat one and found dead worms. Stefan’s had rare sodas such as Snow White – a clear cream soda – my favourite. There were other rarities that never sold, including boxes of cornflakes from the late-60s or early-70s which aligned a top shelf. A slew of grab bags for 50-cents no one bought. Although, I bought one the day of my Gigi Karatchuk’s funeral. It had a piece of stale Bazooka Joe gum and four leather couch buttons. That made me even sadder.
During summer break, Jennifer and I would bike the two miles to Hnausa Beach, and we would stop at Stefan’s for bars, chips, and pop. Maybe a little counter-productive. We would always ask, “Can we put it on Dad’s tab?” We could because: 1) we politely asked, and 2) it gave us leverage when dad received his tally.
The words, “But Stefan said we could,” worked every time.
Stefan had a bizarre diet. It wasn’t unusual to find him at eight in the morning, sitting on the south window ledge, eating a chocolate bar and drinking a pop. My uncle remembers a bucket of chicken on that window ledge. This wouldn’t have been unusual, except the sun was streaming through the window onto the chicken. But Stefan was so tough, he could walk off salmonella.
Stefan’s was broken into one night. The thief took a couple guitars and some cash. It was an open secret that Stefan hid money under the store’s floor boards. It seemed whoever broke-in wanted to confirm that secret. Stefan thought the thief would return, and they came back the next night – and were greeted by Stefan, holding holding a .22 calibre rifle.
Stefan’s was the place to stop in the summer on the way to Hnausa dock. Minnows, fishing lures, small rods for children. Cottagers would pop in for boxes of Old Dutch chips and some small talk.
Stefan died on May 11, 2000 – a year after he retired from the store. His nephew kept the store open for awhile, but closed the doors a few years later.
Today, that white building stands with chipboard over the windows. The paint is flaking and fading, and the gas tank is rusty and eroding. Grass grew over the go-cart track decades ago. There’s nothing tangible inside the store.
I hope no one tears down that white building at the corner of Hwy 8 and Provincial Road 222. Change is inevitable though, and eventually it’ll come down.
However, no one can erode the childhood memories.
Or those stale cornflakes.