The Little Rapids General Store is here to stay.
After more than 30 showings and months of anticipation, long-time owners Merv and Kim Brooks have found a group of area buyers to take over the 133-year-old store.
Thessalon resident Kathy Mroz will become the new face of the general store after she and her husband Doug Bisaillon, along with two other partners, struck a deal to purchase the historic building from the Brooks family last week.
The building was originally constructed in 1890 as a family home with a general store attached to the front — a once-popular design that is rarely seen anywhere today.
Born and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, Mroz has lived in Thessalon since 2002. By day, the foster mom devotes her time as a registered early childhood educator and volunteer firefighter.
Looking to begin slowly transitioning out of her day job, Mroz has long had a dream of being a business owner, though she never imagined taking on this kind of venture before.
“My goal was always to have a little boutique or something – it was never a historic general store,” she told SooToday. “But one night, I was looking over at the store, and I said: ‘I’m going to buy it.’ Financially, I just didn’t have the money to purchase it.”
After forming a business partnership with her husband and two other Thessalon residents, who have chosen to remain anonymous, Mroz and her colleagues met with Brooks for a showing on Sept. 16 and put an offer in.
“I had a vision going in, and when I walked in the store, the building fit my vision,” she says. “Everything was perfect. All I need is a coat of paint and some new flooring and I’m good to go.”
The next day, Brooks had accepted their offer for an undisclosed amount – just nine days after they closed up shop.
“When Kathy came in, she was very emotional,” Brooks explained. “The first words that came out of her month were, ‘I want this store.’ I thought, ‘holy geez, this might just work.’ Some folks who came in weren’t focusing on what the store represented. With Kathy, I knew right away.”
Recognizing the long traditions and esteemed products at the general store, Mroz isn’t looking to change much.
“I’m keeping the store as is,” she says. “I’m just going to try and keep moving forward with what Merv was doing and pick up where he left off. In the house part of the store, I want to do a simple café downstairs – nothing elegant. I’m debating on an Airbnb or a bed and breakfast for upstairs because it’s laid out just perfectly.”
“For now, my main goal is to get the keys, stock the store the way Merv would stock it, and then go from there.”
When the Brooks couple purchased the store in 1981, they had never run their own business before, but their eagerness to carry on the store’s legacy was met with excitement and relief from the community.
The outgoing owner says all the same can be said about Mroz, who is now considered part of the Brooks family.
“I told Kathy she’s going to be a celebrity,” he laughed. “Everyone’s been wondering who was going to buy the general store. People have been so excited since they heard the news. It all came around again.”
Entering semi-retirement, Merv and Kim will continue to oversee the operations at Forestland in the heart of Thessalon’s downtown. They’re looking forward to spending more time with family.
In the coming days, Brooks will be working with Mroz at the general store to ensure a smooth transition.
“Merv is just down the road, so if I ever needed anything or had any questions, I know he would support me through that,” she says.
It is currently unknown when the store will re-open, but if the new owner has it her way, they’ll be back up and running sooner rather than later.
“As soon as everything can get transferred over, I’m opening the doors,” Mroz says.
“She’s my hero,” Brooks adds. “The ‘Angel of Little Rapids.’ We’re excited to watch her carry on the legacy of this iconic piece of Canadian history.”