About Us

Updated article originally published in The Renfrew Mercury, February 2 2011

Lynn and Mel in 2011They’re like “Kids in a candy store”.

Actually, they are “Kids in a candy store”.

Mel Blimkie and his sister, Lynn Parsons Dykeman, along with their respective spouses, are following in the footsteps of their grandparents, who for years, operated Blimkie’s Booth. The tiny store that was crammed in between 2 stately homes on Lochiel Street in Renfrew, catered mostly to the neighborhood. They sold milk, bread, butter, tobacco, ice cream and candy, candy, candy.

“For as long as I can remember, the store was there,” Mel says of the old Blimkie’s Booth at 53 Lochiel St.

“We were very close to our grandparents,” Lynn adds. “My dad, their son, died at 39,” she explains.

“On the weekends, because we used to live in town up to 1966, just down the street, we’d take the bikes over there and get a handful of candy” Mel recalls.

And when the close-knit family moved to the country, the booth was the place where they ended up after school if they wanted to stay in town and play volleyball or go to a dance at the Renfrew Recreation Centre.

Details of that childhood second home are clear, from the uninsulated walls, to the makeshift hinges on the screens, to the ice-cold water in the old Coke cooler. A vibrant memory was the posters adorning the walls, advertising everything from “wrasslin” at the old Renfrew arena, to the local auctions, church suppers and of course the Renfrew Fair.

I remember being a kid and just playing with our Tonka trucks and Hot Wheels right here,” Mel says, pointing to an area of a black-and-white photo taken down from the office wall.

In those days, stores were very connected to the community, something Mel and Lynn wish for their own business.
“It was a social meeting spot for sure,” Mel says. “All of his (grandpa’s) friends would be there,” Lynn agrees.

” I can remember being this big,” says Mel, holding his hand out in front of him, palm down and not far from the floor, “and a kid coming in with a quarter and buying a drink and buying a bag of chips and grandpa sitting at the counter and telling me, ‘go ahead,’ and I would make the change.” The coins would be pulled, not from a cash register, but “just a little drawer.” “There was no recording of any sales until the end of the day. All they did was’ counted back their float and whatever was left over was a sale,” Mel says.

Those recollections of making change and learning his times tables playing cribbage are not only precious; they are also fundamental to who he is today. “My entrepreneurial drive was from them. It had such a big effect on me, growing up in that atmosphere,” says Mel.

“You weren’t sitting in the living room visiting, you were sitting in the store the whole time. You saw them working and you wanted to do it too.”

“You got to fill the cooler, and you got to put the new chocolate bars out, the new candy orders, that was exciting and, Ahh, the hockey cards.”

His grandparents’ generosity also struck a chord. “Both of them were such giving people,” Mel says of Agnes and Frank.
“I can remember some kids coming in and they would bring in a Coke bottle – and it would be two cents, you know, to redeem a Coke bottle. I remember grandpa getting a bag – one of those old little brown paper bags – and just grabbing a handful of things and throwing them in. And I’d look at grandpa going, like, that’s at least seven cents. Grandpa would just give the kid it.” Back then, that meant a lot because treats weren’t something you got all the time.

As a proud owner of A Sense of Country, located on the main street at 169 Raglan St. in Renfrew, Mel wanted to pay honour to his grandparent’s memory. With the decision to open a country themed general store, the dedicated candy corner was born. I was bit with the retail bug early in life. Working in the tiny booth with his grandmother, he learned to make change, add up purchases by hand and help open orders and stock shelves. Playing cribbage between customers also helped with his math skills and Mel eventually went on to a career of banking and entrepreneurship that led to the opening of A Sense of Country.

“It’s funny, now we have people coming in and asking us to find candy for them,” says Lynn. “So we’ve become this place where people come in and say listen, when I grew up I used to eat these, as a kid. Could you please try to find them for us?”

“So, we’re on a search, trying to find all these old candies that everyone remembers and we try to bring them in if we can,” says Lynn.
Some of the candies are hard to track down, but the search is worthwhile when Lynn sees a customer’s eyes light up when the goodies have been tracked down.

Lynn prefers fudge and her personal discovery for the store was a supplier from St. Jacob’s, in Mennonite country. The store carries about over 40 different flavours of this fudge, including seasonal favourites like candy cane and eggnog. “It’s made the old-fashioned way with copper kettles and marble slab; completely homemade,” says Lynn.

The store carries a wide range of home furnishings, decor and gifts that fall under the genre called primitive country. It’s a comfy, cottage style, country home feel with a focus on folk art, rustic-wood and wrought iron. There are numerous theme rooms filled with gift-ware and décor options including a Man Cave and rooms that focuses on themes like fishing, hunting and cottage life. There are also sections devoted to special events like anniversaries, birthdays, retirement, friends, family, and religious milestones.

There’s also a year-round Christmas room, and a number of art pieces, soaps and crafts made from local artisans. We are particularly proud of the number of books featuring local authors or books of local interest.

“There’s so much talent here, it’s nice to bring some of it in,” says Mel.

The store offers convenient gift wrapping and complimentary gift bags and tags for all purchases.

I think one of the things we’ve got going for us is that we’re downtown and that Renfrew’s downtown is really vibrant and active” says Mel.

Lynn agrees, noting customer flow from communities like Ottawa, Arnprior, the Upper Ottawa Valley and the Pontiac. She hopes their business can help to attract even more traffic downtown so they can refer shoppers to the many great shops and places to eat in Renfrew.

“I couldn’t wait to get back home,” says Mel. “The people are so friendly.”

Lynn agrees and tells of people waving through the storefront window. She has also reconnected with friends from her youth.

Lynn and husband Bob lived in the Barrie area where she worked with a school board. She also worked part-time in a gift shop like the one she and her brother own today.

“It took me 26 years, but now that I’m back, it’s beautiful. I forgot how nice Renfrew was,” says Lynn.

In 2009, Mel accepted a buyout package from his employer, took a year off and didn’t know what he was going to do.

” I really liked the financial industry and working with numbers, but I also really enjoy carpentry and I like building and crafting things. I also enjoyed decorating and this would offer a creative outlet,” says Mel.

“Every year our family would make things instead of buying gifts. A year ago, Christmas, Lynn was retiring from the school system down in the Barrie area, and her husband Bob was a retired federal government employee. They wanted to move back home to be closer to mom.”

Mel and his wife always loved the primitive country style of décor and was making pieces that they sold at different venues in the Ottawa area. Lynn had experience working part-time in a similar type of store and so we just kind of said, “Hey, I wonder if this formula would work in Renfrew? It would also be a vehicle to sell our stuff as we made it,” Mel recalls.

The brother-sister duo got excited about the idea and started researching in early 2011.

In July 2011, A Sense of Country opened.

“It was scary and exciting at the same time,” Mel recalls.

“The local people embraced the concept, and we were off and running.”

He and Lynn are especially happy to be home to spend more time with their mother Hilda and stepfather Jim Ogden, who have been proud and supportive of their new business.