LADYWOOD -- Henry and Mary Gabel ran H. Gabel's General Store in Ladywood for more than four decades and, from being together 24/7, had developed some foibles.
Henry, for example, was a bit of a tippler and there were even times when Mounties hauled him out of his own store for drunken conduct, according to local tales.
So, Mary laid down the law, apportioning his libations in a small bottle set in the basement where he would nip down for his daily rations.
As for Mary, she liked to smoke. But Henry, who was often seen sitting on the store's front veranda in a spindle-backed chair sucking on a lit pipe, didn't think it proper for women to smoke. So, she kept a stash of cigarettes. When Henry wasn't imbibing, she was down in the same dingy basement furtively blowing smoke up the chimney so he wouldn't smell it.
'The first time I walked in here, it took me back to when I was a kid going to my grandmother's. I said, This needs to be a store again. '
And they lived happily ever after, or at least in some semblance of happiness abetted by a certain measure of domestic subterfuge. They operated the store from 1931-75.
What brings these stories to light is a new attempt to make viable their grand old country store, which is designated a Manitoba heritage building. Denise Shanoha has reopened it as a 1930s-themed country store named Miss D's.
Shanoha is proof it isn't just the profit motive that drives commerce.
"The first time I walked in here, it took me back to when I was a kid going to my grandmother's," she recalled. "I said, 'This needs to be a store again.' "
The store was painted bright yellow in the 1970s and is a genuine traffic-stopper along Highway 12, north of Beausejour. It's all wood with gables, dormer windows, a wraparound veranda and a second-floor balcony.
It's one of the best surviving examples of a classic boom town-style country store, Manitoba Historic Resources says.
The interior has maple hardwood floors and ceiling, with oak columns and includes display cases, a vault, a weigh scale and an old rack with two rolls of butcher paper still mounted. It has been the site of four movies, including Stone Angel, and most recently the horror flick, Maneater (2007), which starred Gary Busey and two Bengal tigers.
The store thrived in its day. There were once three or four general stores along a six-kilometre strip here, about 65 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, said Debbie Hlady, a granddaughter to the Gabels, who lives next door to the store.
The stores served the community and vehicle traffic that once passed by to reach Lake Winnipeg beaches. That traffic disappeared when Highway 59 to Grand Beach was completed in 1961. The store later became a private museum and art studio.
Shanoha fell in love with the old building and the period it represents. In an essay for a local history book, Mary Gabel, nee Sternat, described H. Gabel General Store as "more than just a place to do your shopping. It was a community centre where people gathered not only to trade, but also to meet their neighbours and discuss their problems, joys and sorrows." It was a place, Gabel continued, "where local, provincial and world affairs were discussed and 'solved.' "
The shelves are sparsely stocked with groceries until Shanoha learns what sells. The freezer contains meat from the Butcher Shop in Dugald. There are jars of candy along the long wood counter, as well as slushes, coffee, ice cream and movie theatre-style popcorn.
Those items are juxtaposed with things like the mounted striker plates. The plates are a roughed piece of metal, with an advertiser's name on them, in this case Picobac Pipe Tobacco, used to strike wooden matches against.
Shanoha also found the store's footwear stock on the premises and put it on display. A friend's antique collection adds to the ambience.
"The store had a little bit of everything" in its day, including illegal booze, she said.
Local people have told Shanoha Henry Gabel was also a small-time bootlegger on the side.
Shanoha hopes to sell the decommissioned St. Peter and St. Paul Roman Catholic Church across the street to support the store. She has received a $13,000 start-up business grant from Community Futures Winnipeg River.
For now, she plans to stay open for just summer months, when she is open every day except Monday. She has also applied to the RM of Brokenhead to reduce the speed limit through Ladywood to at least 70 km/h.