Please welcome Chad Mitchell, one of my oldest friends as we co-write a tribute to one of our favourite hometown stores.
There were many locally owned stores in our hometown throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, but none of them had the charm and longevity of Big Al’s Convenience in the North end of New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. It’s where we used to rent Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) games, buy snacks and all of our favourite music and gaming publications. It was also a place where friends would meet as a starting point before a walk around town. We both must have made a million calls on the pay phone located on the north side of the building. We think about that store all the time and will be saddened the day it closes, as it’s been there for more than a few decades. All things to an end, eventually, but the great memories are for all time.
Hope they stop selling fireworks….
Big Al’s Convenience Store is an institution. Before it transformed into the place it is, it was a Petro-Canada fuel station. Anyone driving between Trenton and New Glasgow has to pass it. Every time we drive by it now when in the area, its’ usually busy. When returning Nova Scotia for visits as an out of province resident, Dann stopped in for lottery tickets.
It was at one time a stopping place for trophy and dart supplies. Local sports groups and dart leagues had a place to take care of those requirements.
During the Nintendo Entertainment System’s initial sales explosion, Big Al’s was among the best places to rent NES games. The store was already well-established as a destination for VHS rentals. When it had some NES systems for rent, it was an outlet for consumers to rent a system out for a weekend before buying one at the major retailers. Prospective renters drove in from all over because the store appeared to have the most available systems and one of the best selections of games. When Super Mario Bros. 3 was announced, Al and his staff ordered the Japanese version so he could start renting it out long before the North American release hit store shelves. He probably made money back on that purchase within a few short weeks.
When we were heading to one another’s respective homes for a night or weekend. Big Al’s was the halfway point. It was the perfect excuse to grab more junk food. Stopping for junk food became another treasured reason to visit the store. Al’s carried a few of the glass “money-back” bottles of Pepsi products soda which at the time you only saw mostly on shelves in Prince Edward Island stores. Those glass bottles were already considered nostalgic at that point even though they had only been phased out a few short years earlier. People had them on display in their lounges, garages, offices and workshops.
Big Al’s would have a deal sometimes that made people stop in specifically for the one thing. There were multiple stops in our youth just because they had twenty-pound bags of potatoes on sale for cheap. There was no household within our respective family and social circles that would go through a giant bag of spuds that quickly. It never mattered. You might lose a few spuds, and the deal was still worth it.
For a few years during high school Dann caught the bus in front of Al’s. So if he had any change in his pocket, his cold caffeine fix could start early. Frequently he boarded the bus with a 1.5 liter bottle of Pepsi purchased from the store. Come 12th grade, the bus stop was moved to a few blocks further away. Still, if time permitted picking up that bottle of soda from Al’s would be part of the morning. Dann showed up to school completely bouncing off the walls from consuming generous amounts of coffee AND cola within a short time frame.
Big Al’s still sells tickets to local events and helps to promote those events within the community through their billboards and advertising. Convenience stores may come and go, but their importance and symbolism remain strong sources of small-town stability.
Shout-out to Cornish’s Variety in nearby Trenton, Nova Scotia. Only recently it changed ownership out of the original family. It remains another staple having been around for over 100 years.
@WriterDann and Chad Mitchell
Originally from New Glasgow and MacPhersons Mills, Nova Scotia Chad Mitchell is a drummer/multi-instrumentalist and composer based in Lloydminster, Alberta. He spent several years as a notable part of Pictou County, Nova Scotia’s burgeoning heavy metal scene. When not working at his day job, he can be found with his family, or working in his home studio “jam room” or spending time playing and promoting classic video games.