By Sue Tiffin
Mike and Katie Hinbest made a choice to set out to live their most ideal life, and in doing so, will become the owners of the iconic Robinson’s General Store in Dorset as of May 1.
The couple moved from Orangeville to Huntsville a few years ago, looking for something different. He worked in automotive repair, owning a Napa Auto Parts for almost a decade, while she has a background in healthcare as a recreation therapist working to improve the quality of life for patients who have had a stroke or lung disease.
“We realized, we started looking at our life a few years back now, a good three or four years ago, and realizing that Orangeville wasn’t as small a community as it used to be, and every time we got a spare moment we always went north, we always came back to Muskoka and to Haliburton and so on,” said Mike. He said the couple have a “live your dream” philosophy.
“Don’t live one day unhappy,” he said. “So we sat back and said, you know what, let’s move north and live our dream,” he said. “Life’s too short.”
As they were going through the process of listing their business for sale and beginning to look for a house, Mike’s younger brother tragically passed away at the age of 30.
“That really changed our perspective on life – as for anybody, that big shock in life just changes you, and we realized that life is extremely short, and you’d better enjoy what you do every day,” said Mike. “Part of us moving up here was for lifestyle, enjoyment, raising our kids [Ethan and Brie] the way we feel they should be and we basically sat back and said, OK, what’s next for us, what do we enjoy doing?”
When Mike was young, his family had a cottage in Haliburton on Little Kennisis Lake.
“There’s where we first learned of Dorset, actually,” he said, noting that he and his family snowmobiled in the area, which he and Katie continued to do years later, cottaging and camping in the Muskoka and Haliburton area.
“We carried the tradition on,” said Katie.
That Mike and Katie care about tradition is essential for the community as the Hinbests become the new owners of the beloved store that has been in the Robinson family for 100 years this year, with four generations of the family owning or working in Robinson’s General Store, which operates seven days a week, year round.
“In the beginning, the store was a 1,200-square-foot traditional general store, there to service the logging industry and the few locals,” reads the website. “It struggled through the depression, then the war years, until 1950 when the first building addition was constructed. After that, whenever the store was able to accumulate a bit of money, another expansion was built. Now, 15 additions later, the store has grown to over 14,000 square feet of retail space.”
Mike remembers visiting Robinson’s General Store in his youth.
“It’s just so surreal to remember seeing something as a child, and having no idea that 30 years later you are going to be a part of this, in this community,” he said. “It’s so cool. It’s awesome for that to happen. To see that kind of stuff in life. You just never know.”
Mike had sat down to write out ideas of what his dream job might look like, then sat back, list in hand, to brainstorm which businesses might encompass those ideas. It was then he saw that Brad Robinson had listed Robinson’s for sale.
“Once I saw it, it was a no-brainer,” he said. “It just felt like the place I wanted to be … It’s just so much fun. I love the idea of that iconic, cottage country store that families and generations remember forever and those types of memories are what I really enjoy so just being able to do that for other people is something special and fun.”
“Mike is very business-savvy and passionate about things,” said Katie. “So if he really loves something, [he has] a gut feeling, ‘I have to do this, I have to be here.’”
“How am I just so lucky that I’m getting to live my dream right now?” he said. “You just feel so fortunate.”
Mike said the stories of the past that Brad has shared with him are compelling, and he hopes to be able to uphold the tradition of what Robinson’s has nurtured while continuing to offer a “great customer experience.”
“It’s a pleasure to me to be able to work with the community and figure out what it is we need to do to keep that tradition going,” he said.
While much will remain the same, Mike said a new addition to the store’s offerings – Affogato Cafe + Gelato – will bring a coffee shop to the building, and he and Katie hope to launch a winter campfire feature to create a destination for snowmobilers.
“The Robinsons always built the store off of, what are you having to drive a half an hour, or drive further away to get,” said Mike. “If you’re driving away for it, you’re taking away from your family time. So can we bring it out to Dorset for you? That’s my thoughts with all of it, is focusing on that idea. What do people need? Let’s bring that to them. That’s our job.”
The community response has also been motivating to the Hinbests.
“It’s just amazing how supportive the community is,” said Mike. “To see that many positive vibes about it, and people willing to help you out, I just love that about this world. It’s one of the reasons we moved up north – people hold the door open for you and they say good morning to you, and that just showed that right away, people were like, what do you guys need, what can we help you with? I have yet to see one person who hasn’t been totally supportive in trying to help us out.”
Both Mike and Katie noted the excellence in staff, who they said are passionate about their work.
“We met with staff and every single one of them cared so much about working at Robinson’s, and were so proud and passionate about it,” said Katie.
“It was reassuring,” said Mike. “There’s a reason people love the place, well, it’s because the staff do such a good job at it … Once we talked to them we said, we’re so lucky to have people like this to work with.”
“It feels so nice to come in to something like that,” said Katie.
For more information about Robinson’s General Store, visit http://www.robinsonsgeneralstore.ca/.