As the Sunshine Coast’s population grows, a new breed of entrepreneur is bringing fresh ideas (mushroom gummies anyone?) and energy to the region.
Of course, there has always been an entrepreneurial spirit on the Sunshine Coast. Like B.C. as a whole, small legacy businesses are still the backbone of the local economy and a crucial part of communities on the Coast.
The owners of one of the Sunshine Coast’s most well-known and cherished businesses, Claytons Heritage Market in Sechelt, have seen the changes first-hand. Neil Clayton’s family has not only owned and operated the landmark food store for over 70 years, they’ve also owned Sechelt’s Trail Bay Shopping Centre for over 50 years.
“Sechelt has grown significantly over the years, but it is still a relaxed community when compared to many other areas of the province,” says Neil, Claytons president and general manager. “Most of us consider ourselves lucky to live in such a beautiful location.”
The Clayton family, which has lived in the area since 1919 when Neil’s grandfather Edric Clayton moved there, has seen the town grow around them. Originally a home-based grocery store in the centre of town, Claytons Heritage Market has been Sechelt’s “first choice in foods” since 1950. Today it is part of a growing community of shops, restaurants, and professional service providers within the Trail Bay Shopping Centre, also owned by the Clayton family.
A mainstay of the local community, some of the Claytons’ current staff had parents and grandparents working for the family decades ago.
“Business challenges have arisen from time-to-time over the years, but it is fulfilling to be involved in a multi-generational family business,” says Neil. “We’ve been fortunate to have many co-workers remain on staff for several years, which helps create continuity for our customers.”
The longevity and success of the Claytons’ businesses is testament to their willingness to move with and adapt to the times. For example, in 2020 the family worked with BC Hydro to install 350 solar panels on the roof over Clayton’s Heritage Market. It’s the first system of its kind powering a grocery store in B.C.
It is forward thinking like this that should lead to another successful 70 years for the Claytons, and by extension their tenants in the Trail Bay mall. This includes the new entrepreneurs adding to the diversity of the region. They can learn a lot from the Clayton family about how to build a successful long-term business.
“Small businesses are the backbone of most communities,” says Neil. “If I was to offer advice for up-and-coming entrepreneurs, it would be: do your research, watch your costs, and be prepared to work harder than you were planning on working.”
Most recently, the Trail Bay mall welcomed a new start-up business tenant. Fills Good is very much a business of its time. It’s a zero-waste refill shop that lets people in the community bring their own container and refill it again and again with earth-friendly soaps, cleaning products, and plant-based foods.
Another landmark Sunshine Coast business is the iconic Molly’s Reach restaurant in Gibsons. The eatery gained fame as one of the stars of the classic Canadian TV series, The Beachcombers. When the owners retired, the opportunity to own a piece of much-loved Canadiana made headlines.
A local family, the Bedfords, took up the challenge of not only writing the script for the next chapter of the Molly’s Reach story, but beginning a new story of their own.
“We are community-forward in our endeavours, we are environmentally conscious and we are all passionate about our businesses in this small community,” says Tim Bedford, an experienced chef and restaurant owner.
Today, some of Edric Clayton’s great-grandchildren work in the Claytons Heritage Market, the fourth generation to work there. Give it another 70 years or so and that could be the case at Molly’s Reach and any number of the other Sunshine Coast small businesses that help to power the local economy.
Claytons and Molly’s Reach are not the only family-run, legacy businesses on the Sunshine Coast. Here are the stories of three more “old timers” that have served the local community for decades:
Kenmac has been servicing the Gibsons community since 1959. In 1967, Larry and Yvonne Boyd bought the business and the family has been running it ever since. They doubled the store’s size in 1975, by which time their son Shawn was working there part time. Shawn worked his way up to manager by 1980, eventually buying the business from his parents. Today, Kenmac—named after the original owner Ken McHeffey—carries a complete selection of auto parts and accessories to help keep the Coast moving forward.
The Mercer family bought the Buccaneer Marine in 1968 and have been servicing mariners and their vessels ever since. Today the resort and marina comprises a fuel dock selling propane, fishing tackle, live bait, and snacks, as well as gas. They also now offer water taxi and barge services, as well as moorage. In the 80s, the family added a sales and service department with a mercury outboard mercruiser dealer and certified marine mechanics.
The Cogrossi family, owners of the Ruby Lake Resort, arrived on the Sunshine Coast in 1993—all the way from Milan, Italy. The resort reflects their background, bringing a little bit of Italy to the Canadian west coast. The family has embraced the local community and environment, turning to local woodworkers and using reclaimed lumber and driftwood to enhance the natural feel of the property. The family’s on-site Italian restaurant, where Aldo Cogrossi is the chef, overlooks the Ruby Lake Lagoon, bird sanctuary, and Ruby Lake itself.
Discover more Sunshine Coast businesses on the BC Marketplace.
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