If you haven’t dropped by Yetman’s Ltd. lately, you may not recognize the joint.
In September 2020, brothers Norm and Keith Yetman relocated their family-run operation, an outdoor equipment distributor that will toast 75 years in business in 2022, from its decades-old home on Jarvis Avenue, near the Old Exhibition Grounds, to a spanking new facility at 1201 Grassmere Rd., just north of the Perimeter Highway. Soon thereafter, Norm’s daughters Kristen and Megan Yetman added a good, old-fashioned general store to the mix.
That means along with Yetman’s regular fare — kayaks, pedal boats, power tools and lawn and garden gear — one can also stop in for handmade soaps, leather handbags, vintage articles of clothing... even the odd vinyl album. (Emphasis on the odd: the Rio Carnival Orchestra’s 1958 release, Honeymoon in South America, a steal of a deal at $3.)
"I’ve noticed an interesting dynamic in the past 12 months or so," Norm says, seated alongside Kristen and Megan in a separated office area steps away from their 1,700-square-foot showroom, roughly one-third of which serves as the freshly branded Yetman’s General Store.
"Every once in a while when we were on Jarvis I’d hear from younger people who’d say their dad or granddad used to come here, but they’d never been. My brother and I would wonder what we had to do to secure their business, too, and from what I’ve seen so far, the girls’ idea has been the perfect solution."
George Yetman, Norm’s grandfather, was born in 1901. Following an early career in the fledgling trucking industry, he caught on with the Macdonald Brothers Aircraft Co., later Bristol Aerospace, at the onset of the Second World War. Because almost all available metals and factories during that period were required for the military effort, there was a scarcity of everyday items, home appliances in particular, when the war ended, to the degree families living on the same block often shared a washing machine or fridge.
Recognizing an urgent need to keep existing appliances running, George and his son Earl, Norm’s father, began repairing stoves and what not out of a home garage on Bannatyne Avenue in 1947; at least that’s the year scribbled on the earliest invoice Norm has found so far. As things slowly returned to normal and shortages became less severe, the two introduced a retail division, the success of which resulted in the opening of a dedicated storefront at 875 Notre Dame Ave. in the early 1950s.
"Like I said, they started off with appliances but by the time they got to Notre Dame they were selling garden tillers, chainsaws, outboard motors... a wide variety of items," Norm says, figuring he was nine or 10 when he started accompanying his grandfather on deliveries, and in his early 20s when he began working there full-time. By then, Yetman’s, which also maintains a warehouse in Calgary, had moved a second time, to a building on Jarvis Avenue roughly 10 times the size of its predecessor.
Norm and Keith assumed the day-to-day duties from their father in 1998, though the elder Yetman continued to show up like clockwork — "Seriously, did Grandpa ever really retire?" Kristen asks in a redundant manner — well into his 80s. The brothers began preparing to leave their aging, Jarvis Avenue premises in 2019 after being shown the Grassmere site, a perfect fit for their line of outdoor equipment, they felt, as it was situated directly off Highway 8 on the way to cottage country.
A lightbulb went on in Kristen and Megan’s heads the second they visited Yetman’s proposed, new home, months prior to the switch-over. Yes, there was a showroom on Jarvis, Megan contends, but it paled in size compared to where they were going.
What should they do with all that empty space, the sisters openly wondered?
"We were sitting around one night, throwing out ideas, when we asked one another if there was anything we’d always dreamed of doing," says Kristen, an accomplished visual artist who draws and paints under the pseudonym Ten Yetman. "At some point in our conversation we simultaneously blurted out how we’d each love to run something along the lines of a bookstore."
"I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Poor Michael’s in Onanole, before you get to Riding Mountain (National Park), but we used to go there annually as a family, on our way to Clear Lake," says Megan, who studied graphic design in university. "It’s this gorgeous, little spot that sells books, records, coffee and art, and the more we talked about what we might do with Yetman’s, the more we wanted to emulate Poor Michael’s."
Kristen and Megan’s original plan was to take things slowly, sussing out how a store-inside-a-store would even work. (Don’t head there expecting to see a dividing wall or anything; instead, a scarlet-red, lightweight kayak serves as a partition from the parts desk.)
Except moments after they posted a shot on Instagram of a rack of vintage, leather motorcycle jackets and an assortment of Nova Scotia Fisherman soaps — the whole of their inventory early on — they were inundated with messages along the lines of, "Oh, I can’t wait to come to your store," and "What else do you have for sale?"
"Oops," they said in unison, "I guess we’d better get to work."
The first thing that catches your eye when you step through the front door is a fully restored, 1967 Norton Atlas motorcycle belonging to Norm, only he no longer rides it as it’s a kick-start and his knees aren’t what they used to be, he says with a chuckle.
Past the bike is a display case boasting a swath of attractive, coffee table books covering a variety of subjects; cooking, gardening and fashion, to name a few. To the left are numerous goods for the home and cabin, procured from Manitoba makers as well as from throughout North America.
"Our primary goal is to support local artisans who fit with what we’re about — all-natural ingredients, environmental sustainability and low to zero waste," Megan says, running her fingers over a hand-carved, walnut spatula carved by Winnipeg’s Rewild Woodworks. "But because there are a lot of other small shops and pop-up markets in and around the city doing a great job of that, too, we also bring in unique items from as far away as Maine and California, so that what you see here isn’t the same as every place else."
That continental selection includes enamelware from Salt Lake City’s Barebones Living, canvas backpacks from San Diego’s Bradley Mountain and — our favourite — a set of "Where’s Bowie?" jigsaw puzzles featuring the late English rocker-as-Waldo; when the puzzle is completed, it’s your job to spot the Thin White Duke hidden in settings such as Berlin, New York and — Ground Control to Major Tom — outer space.
One of the dozen or so local designers whose wares are showcased at Yetman’s General Store is Paolo Riva. His venture, Rootfire Wood + Metal Workshop, which turns out iron-forged bottle openers, coat hooks and barbecue skewers, is based just a few kilometres away, in East St. Paul.
"It is lovely to have a retail location focusing on local craft and other great products," Riva says, when reached at home. "It really helps visibility for my work to have it featured in-store and on their social media, for sure."
"What’s been the most fun is thinking about whose stuff we want to bring in next," says Kristen, whose artwork and prints are handsomely displayed on a back wall, where they are available for purchase. "We’ve talked about adding a foundry stocked with jams and preserves and even Dad has gotten into the act, saying perhaps we should be selling binoculars to birders, there seem to be so many more of them since COVID."
"I guess that’s the nice thing about being a general store," interjects Megan, whose handknitted, 100 per cent cotton dishcloths — "just the way our grandma used to make them" — are for sale, as well.
"We can seriously be as ‘general’ as we want to be, from fishing rods to hot sauce to whatever. I was joking around the other day, pretending to be a customer, going, ‘Oh, look, there’s Yetman’s. Let’s stop and grab some coffee. And while we’re at it, a canoe.’"
David Sanderson writes about Winnipeg-centric restaurants and businesses.
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.