Port Medway’s new spot for groceries and gathering: Rosefinch Mercantile and Tea Room

(Haritha Gnanaratna and Audra Williams stand in front of the Rosefinch Mercantile. Photo contributed)

Port Medway is one step closer to having a source for staples, cafe and all-ages venue as Rosefinch Mercantile and Tea Room prepares to open its doors.

Audra Williams is co-proprietor of the space along with husband Haritha Gnanaratna.

Williams says the shop will open in September – exciting news for those curious about progress in the space, which the couple have spent more than a year preparing.

You can follow the business on Facebook and Instagram for updates and news on the opening date.

“The first time in 200 years the town didn’t have a little grocery store”

Rosefinch Mercantile is in the space previously occupied by the Port Grocer, which closed in 2021.

Williams speaks of the old Port Grocer as a beloved meeting spot for locals in the seaside town – and the community’s source for staples.

“People are telling us that was the first time in 200 years that the town didn’t have a little grocery store,” says Williams in a phone interview.

(The building that hosts Rosefinch Mercantile in a past incarnation. Photo contributed)

Upcoming weeks will see the space become a full-fledged grocer, as she and Gnanaratna set up grocery shelves and organise wholesale accounts including stock from Fresh Cuts in Bridgewater.

Williams says local suppliers have been excited to have their products featured – she anticipates the shop stocking Flying Dutchman Cheese, OK Sea Salt, larger pies from Famous Town Pie Shop and granola from Goldhawk Farm.

They intend to sell baked goods from Boulangerie La Vendéenne and Ploughman’s Lunch.

“We definitely feel like we benefit from a lot of community goodwill, and people are very excited and very positive,” says Williams.

To plan what on how to serve the community, she says they launched a survey asking locals what they want they want to buy in town, and elicited about 50 responses – significant for the population of approximately 200 people.

“A lot of people were saying, ‘I just want staples. I just want to be able to come get a loaf of bread and some cheese and milk. And that’s what we want also,” says Williams, who now calls Port Medway home.

Vision for space sees open mic nights, all-ages programming

Williams and Gnanaratna’s vision for Rosefinch Mercantile expands beyond groceries to making the space an alcohol-free all-ages venue and community hub.

They’ve kept the backyard’s community garden maintained thanks to a team of local volunteers, and plans for future events programming include open mic nights and movie nights.

(Photo contributed)

“It’s been interesting when musicians reach out to us and ask if we’re still going to be doing pub nights. Some people, when I tell them we’re not going to have a liquor license, they’re like – ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’ Which is totally their right,” says Williams. 

“But other musicians are like – ‘That’s actually fantastic, because I am in this bar band, but I also do my own singer-songwriter stuff and I would love to come play to a different vibe.’” 

Williams says she has done a deep dive into research on what connects communities – “In the UK, there’s a ministry to eliminate loneliness,” she notes – and people under age 20 and over 80 are most isolated in rural communities.

“So we’re trying to make sure we have programming and things that not only serve both of those communities, but my dream would be to overlap them, with intergenerational skill-sharing and things like that.”

She says a friend who works with youth in the area says it would be great for them to have a place to play Dungeons and Dragons together – to read poems to each other.

“I know it’s tricky because of the location, and driving and cars and everything, and public transit not really being a thing – but hopefully people can take turns borrowing their parents’ cars,” she says with a laugh.

Opening follows a year of accessibility renovations

When Williams and Gnanaratna got the keys in July 2022, they initially expected they would be able open after about a month of cleaning and improvements – but after many surprises and obstacles, getting the doors open has been a more than a year of hard work in the making.

They didn’t realize when they bought the building that it wasn’t up to current accessibility regulations. By the time they occupied the building, it had been more than 12 months since the previous business had been operating on the site, and they weren’t eligible to have the building grandfathered in.

“That was ok. I’m in favour of this legislation, this legislation came as a result of the disability community advocating for it,” says Williams. 

But complying with accessibility legislation wasn’t straightforward.

Since March, she has operated a blog sharing progress towards making Rosefinch Mercantile a reality, to keep the community updated.

“I think it’s hard for people to understand – ‘Why do you guys have to do all this? It was a store a year and a half ago,” says Williams. “Why do you have to put in new floors, and build a ramp, and all these pieces?’”

“We’re probably one of the first places in Queens County to open up as a ‘new build,’ even though it’s not a new build,” she says. “It was very difficult to get consistent guidelines on what we had to do, and we knew we didn’t have the money to do these renovations twice.”

Initially, the couple was held up over a five-month period where Williams says they received conflicting information from the Municipality and Province on how to achieve accessibility requirements. 

“The municipality told us we had to motorise our front doors, our bathroom doors, widen our front door – and then the province told us, ‘That’s only if this place seats more than 100 people.’ Which it doesn’t. It doesn’t come close.”

“The municipality said, ‘Well, that’s the gold standard.’ And the province was like, ‘Why are we holding these people to the gold standard? They’re trying their best to be open and be compliant.”

They entered a pilot program with Nova Scotia’s Accessibility Directorate, which saw an architect measure the space and share a specific point-by-point breakdown on updates they needed to make.

The Municipality funded $5,000 with an upgrade to build a ramp through its Business Façade Program. They received another $5,000 from the Province towards levelling the floor. 

All other necessary upgrades, like installing a janitor’s closet and upgrades for a public bathroom, are being funded independently.

Supply chain troubles were another obstacle – stunning lemon yellow and cherry red floor tiles that the couple were told would arrive in 10 days, took close to 10 weeks.

(Photo contributed)

There’s been no shortage of surprises. In the 1980s, the building hosted a pottery studio. Williams says she moved in to discover dozens of bottles of lead glaze in the basement, which she paid to get disposed.

“I know some people might think we were being kind of extra with how careful we were about that,” she says, “but when the basement flooded to almost four feet during the storms recently – if those bottles of glaze had been smashing against each other, that would have been it for our water.”

The couple plan to eventually expand from the front 600 square feet of the business to use the rest of the 4000 square foot space, including the kitchen. Among other uses, they intend to use the space to manufacture and serve their tarot-themed alcohol-free cocktail kits, Temperance Tonics.

How Rosefinch Mercantile got its name

There is a story to why the shop at 1615 Port Medway Road, known in recent living memory as Port Grocer and the Farmer’s Kwikway, is now named Rosefinch Mercantile and Tea Room.

When Williams and Gnanaratna married, they intended to change their last names to a new, shared surname.

Williams says her grandmother used to live near Toronto’s Finch Station, which is near where Gnanaratna grew up – so they leaned towards Finch.

“We like to imagine we could have been at Finch Station at the same time. It’s an overlap for us. But then – Finch, it felt like we were doing an Atticus Finch thing, and that felt off,” laughs Williams.

“So we were like, what do we want to add to that?”

They looked up different kinds of finches and learned the rosefinch is found both in Sri Lanka and Wales, countries they descend from.

The pair diverted from the plan to legally change their surnames after they married in December 2021, and imminently proceeded to register a corporation and acquire a property – the contracts were going to get too complicated.

But they like the old tradition of businesses named after the owner, thus – Rosefinch Mercantile and Tea Room.


7 responses to “Port Medway’s new spot for groceries and gathering: Rosefinch Mercantile and Tea Room”

  1. Good to read about the imminent opening of Rosefinch. It has been a stopping place for us for years when it was the Port Grocer. as we head up and down the highway regularly. All the best for these carefully considered plans – looking forward to the opening.

  2. Celia Klemenz

    So happy you are opening the grocery shop again! Looking forward to live music again!

  3. Svea Vikander

    I can’t wait to visit!!

  4. Lesley

    Congratulations on all your hard work paying off what a lot of hoops you had to navigate through! Gold medals for you both!

  5. Dustin LindenSmith

    I also can’t wait to visit! So proud of Audra and Haritha for all the work they did on thia.

  6. So pleased for you two! Looking forward to a visit

  7. Alan Martin

    Definitely on my list of places to stop next time I’m in Nova Scotia.

    Congratulations on all the hard work paying off!

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