Its new owners hope to renew the store’s role as a hub in the small community on the Sibley Peninsula, just in time to mark its 150th anniversary.
First built in 1871, the store originally supported operations at the Silver Islet mine, known for a time in the late 19th century as the world's richest silver mine.
The Saxberg family bought the store in 1985, but health issues forced its closure in 2015. Its future remained uncertain for several years, but in 2020 family member Sandy Korkola and her husband Jeff announced they would take on the task of upgrading the building.
Sandy, who spent much of her life in and around the store, said it’s a “piece of Canadian history” that she’s thrilled to keep in the family.
“It’s just unbelievable the building has withstood Lake Superior and the elements for that long,” she said. “To see it [open] a new chapter from what my family started is just a really proud moment, and it just means a lot – to me and the entire family.”
Her father Lorne Saxberg, Sr., who turns 90 this year, looks forward to seeing the store running again and plans to be there scooping ice cream, she said.
“When it went up for sale, it was difficult to imagine it leaving the family. Jeff and I were just in a position a couple of years ago to take the jump.”
She hopes the Silver Islet community, along with visitors from near and far, will share her family’s enthusiasm.
The couple tentatively hopes to open the store, located about a one-hour drive from Thunder Bay and within minutes of the popular Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, by the beginning of July.
“People are looking for a place, and we’d like to offer that again,” said Sandy.
The general store has always been a hub and a gathering place, she said. She hopes to continue that tradition, offering food, drinks, art, and a celebration of history.
The store will sell some limited grocery staples, light lunches, and baking including cinnamon buns and pies. There will also be a takeout window offering selections from a cappucino and ice cream bar – high on the list of in-demand items on a survey the couple conducted last year.
The shop will also feature work from local artisans, and Canadian gifts for tourists, said Sandy. The store, with its tearoom in the back, could also serve as a venue for small concerts.
Visitors will be arriving by boat, as well as by land, thanks to the refurbishment of the Silver Islet harbour, including the dock located directly behind the store, by the federal government in 2020.
The store is working with Sail Superior to collaborate on boat tours, Sandy said.
The relaunch has come with hours of work by the Korkolas, but they’ve had help from volunteers and received donations toward the approximately $75,000 spent to date to renovate the building.
“It’s just been wonderful, the support and the love for the building and the area,” Sandy said.
The renovations have included installing a new roof, two dozen new windows, with work on a solar power system underway.
To celebrate the relaunch and honour the store’s 150th anniversary this summer, the Korkolas plan to erect a 42-foot mast in front of the store, paying tribute to Silver Islet’s mining history.
The couple is thrilled to welcome customers back this summer, but say a fitting celebration of the milestone may have to wait due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ll mark the 150th year this year to whatever extent restrictions allow us to, but I think we’re going to move our main celebration to 2022,” said Jeff. “We’ll have a big party.”