More than just a shopping centre

Story and photos by Angelica Ingram

Published June 28 2016

This is the first instalment of a feature series on general stores in the Highlands.

There isn’t a face or name that Bill Burden doesn’t know.

The owner of the West Guilford Shopping Centre for the past 33 years he greets everyone with a smile wave or a hello and doesn’t see retirement in his future anytime soon.

As customer after customer make their way into Burden’s lively general store it’s clear the owner has a passion for his business and his community.

Born in Newfoundland Burden moved to the Highlands when he was 17 after his father got a job at Haliburton Highlands Secondary School.

He stayed in the area for the next few years working at a bank in Minden before moving to the Niagara region and landing a good job at a winery.

But frequent visits to see old chums would bring him back to the Highlands where he met Edna the sister of one of his friends. The pair were married shortly after.

Born and raised in Haliburton Edna was able to convince Bill that they should move back to Haliburton County to raise their two kids Chad and Cory who were 10 and eight.

At that time 1983 what was then known as Prentice’s store was for sale so the couple decided to buy it.

“I mentioned it to my wife and she said why don’t we put an offer in” Burden said. “I’d never done anything like this we just wanted to move back up here and have year round work. We tried it and we still like it.”

Today the store is the heart of West Guilford offering more than what your typical general store might have.

Situated on Kennisis Lake Road the shopping centre includes a post office LCBO and Beer Store an ATM DVD rentals and toiletries.

The store has undergone two renovations since it was purchased by the Burdens one to accommodate the addition of alcohol and the other for the meat department.

Like many general stores in the area the shopping centre has produce dairy and other food. However the store is known for its fresh meat counter and butcher.

“Meat’s our big thing” Burden says.

Homemade sausages in a variety of flavours can be found piled high next to them are freshly made burgers ready for a barbecue.

An elderly man comes in and picks up his special order pork roast which the butcher hands him with a smile.

Fresh made sandwiches bacon and deli items are also available.

Burden tries to have everything you might need at his store which is busiest during the long weekends of the summer particularly the Civic Holiday weekend he said. The only day of the year the store is closed is Christmas.

Ice cream treats greet kids when they walk in the front door and bags of bread and bakery items fill the store with a pleasant aroma.

The shopping centre has a baker on staff who can be found stocking an industrial size oven with dough each day.

“We try to make it a one stop shop” Burden says.

Apart from the summer months the store is also busy during hunting season in the fall. They provide food for a number of local hunt camps.

Open 12 months of the year he says his store gets a lot of local support.

“We try and give the best service we can and supply something of everything” he said. “I think the big thing is service.”

That customer service has not gone unnoticed. A few years ago the West Guilford Shopping Centre was the recipient of a Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce award for excellence.

Burden points to longtime customers as another reason for his store’s success as well as its small town feel.

“I enjoy what I’m doing” he said. “I asked my wife did you ever think we’d be doing this for 33 years? She said no.”