Barney Deforge opening Little Current candy and toy store

The former English Pantry building in downtown Little Current will soon be the home of The Mercantile, a candy and toy store run by Rodney Deforge of Barney’s Bargain Barn fame. photo by Warren Schlote

LITTLE CURRENT – This year is going to be a period of major growth for Island entrepreneur Rodney “Barney” Deforge who shared his organization’s plans for 2020 with The Expositor, beginning with the long-vacant storefront in the middle of downtown Little Current which will soon hold a boutique candy and toy store.

“That building’s been empty for a while,” said Mr. Deforge. “I think this is going to be a big asset in the downtown to complement the rest of the businesses. Especially when we do our events for things like Country Fest or Haweater Weekend when they shut downtown down, it’s going to be great to have a candy store with things like freshly made cotton candy and popcorn.” 

The downtown storefront has not had a permanent tenant for a few years now. Mr. Deforge purchased the building and is presently working on revitalizing the space.

“This is something new for us. It’s not going to be the same as the Bargain Barn—we’re going to have a lot of imported candy and nostalgic candy,” said Mr. Deforge, noting that the offerings will be more exotic than the domestic candies available at convenience stores.

The building itself has a vintage appearance, including tin ceilings, that worked well with the nostalgia component of his offerings. Because of the old-timey feel, Mr. Deforge said he plans to call the business The Mercantile.

“That means, basically, a country store in a sparsely populated area. That’s what the old stores used to be years ago,” he said. “We wanted to run with that so the inside will be rustic and nostalgic.”

Mr. Deforge said his toy offerings would complement the candy side of the operation to create a very kid-friendly operation.

“We’re going to make the town a lot more fun and make a place for kids to have on the main street,” he said.

The Mercantile is expected to open for the May long weekend this year. When it opens, it will create four full-time jobs for the community. Although Mr. Deforge said he had all the equipment to sell ice cream as well, that won’t be in the works for the opening.

Many changes are also underway up at the flagship Barney’s Bargain Barn location. Until late December of 2019, Mr. Deforge did not own the land on which his business was situated—it was still held by the former tenant, Little Current RONA Building Supply, and leased to Barney’s. That ownership change has opened new possibilities for the operation.

“We’re going to be putting in a chip truck on the main grounds at the store,” said Mr. Deforge. “It’s not the typical chip truck—it’s a 70-foot-long mobile kitchen.”

The eatery will feature standard chip truck fare with an important difference—a strong emphasis on fresh, in-house-made foods, such as fresh-baked buns, uniquely shaped hamburger patties and peameal bacon sandwiches.

“We’re going to have a healthy component as well, so you can substitute your fries for a salad of the day. And it’s not just a standard tossed salad, we’re going to do all homemade dressings and it’ll be very fresh,” said Mr. Deforge. “You won’t have to settle for a typical grease fix.”

This fall, Mr. Deforge said he wanted to start up a meals-on-wheels service out of this kitchen facility. That plan would give the building use in the off-season when chip stand business grinds to a halt.

“We help a lot of seniors out here already, but we thought it would be nice to do a hot meal once a week. We used to do it before in Manitowaning, where we would do 150 meals a week—and we don’t charge for it,” said Mr. Deforge. “Our meals on wheels were free and paid for by our store. It’s going to be the same when we open up again; we won’t have a charge. That way, shut-ins and others in need can be guaranteed a hot meal. All our drivers are volunteers.”

This newspaper also reported last year about the forthcoming video game bus that Mr. Deforge is working on as another child-focused offering. He has purchased the bus and it is licenced and nearly ready to go, but Mr. Deforge had some health concerns and had to pause that project. However, it is also expected to launch this year alongside the two other initiatives.

“It’s absolutely coming and it’s just sitting there, waiting to go. I have a funny feeling that it’ll make a nice attachment to the chip truck; it’ll be parked there as well,” he said.

With the new storefront, the chip truck and gaming bus on the horizon, Mr. Deforge said as many as 12 full-time (37 hours on average) positions will be coming available in May, with pay set at a living wage for the area.

“In the end, Little Current is actually a really good investment community. It really is. We’ve had a really good response from the town and an amazing response from the community. When you look at the growth in smaller areas next to how Little Current welcomes businesses, it tells me a lot. Any business has a risk but I think this town is worth the risk,” said Mr. Deforge.