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Avondale family keeping shop 130 years… and counting

By Chris Lewis | Vol. 32 No. 20 (July 31 2019)

It has been 130 years, but Flynn’s Store is still standing strong in Avondale. This coming weekend, they’ll celebrate that longevity with a customer appreciation barbeque on Saturday.

The family store, with the big tree protruding through the fence, is nearly as much of an icon of the picturesque Conception Bay Centre community as the beautiful Assumption Catholic Church located nearby.

The business has been a staple of the community since it opened in the late 1800s. Current proprietor, Harold Flynn, has been operating the store since January 1, 1970. It was his great-great-grandfather, William Flynn, who initially opened up shop in 1889.

“He built the store himself. In fact, he had built a duplex house, and the bottom section of that was his store in 1889,” Harold explained.

William Flynn maintained the business until his death in 1902, at which point the business was taken over by Dennis Flynn, Harold’s great-grandfather.

The store continued to be passed along through the Flynn family for a number of generations, with Harold’s father Cyril taking it under his wing in 1938. Harold explained that the business, at this point, was still being run out of the same building, and by 1959, business had become too busy, hectic, and successful to continue operating out of the relatively small building.

“It got to the point where the premises was simply too small,” Harold explained. “By 1959, the business had increased to the point where a new building was necessary. That brings us to this building right here where we are now. We moved into this place in November of that year and been here ever since.”

From that point, Cyril Flynn operated the business out of the new location for another 10-years, up until 1969. That’s when Harold stepped in, officially claiming the establishment as his own on the first day of 1970.

“There’s a whole family line involved here. Of course, my children are also involved in the store, so there are five generations of Flynns taking part in the business,” Harold said.

These days, Flynn’s Store is as much of a small supermarket as it is a convenience store, thanks to the sheer number of products that line the shelves.

Under the Clover Leaf, grocery line, as well as ties with other suppliers and wholesalers, the store carries everything from fresh produce and meats, to household supplies, and even alcohol at the Liquor Express located at the back of the store.

“We carry a lot of groceries that are in demand here in our community, so a lot of people rely on us,” Harold said. “If somebody comes in and wants something that we don’t have, well, if they’re going to be repeat customers, then we’ll order it in and have it on hand for them.”

On top of all this, literally speaking, is even an extensive art gallery.

Harold’s wife, Phyllis, returned to painting after retirement. She has dozens of her pieces on display in her own art gallery and studio, located in the upstairs portion of Flynn’s Store. There, she carries out her passion for art, all while offering up copies for sale.

“(Phyllis) opened up an art studio, and she’s very active with it. Her workshop is right on site up there, so that serves as another attraction for business as well,” said Harold.

“Every day, you’re trying to grab at something that’s going to be an improvement to your business. 90 per cent of the time it will work, and, well, why worry about that other 10 per cent? Just keep going,” Harold added, laughing.

Harold’s head for business is a good clue as to why Flynn’s remains a success. Whole industries, never mind particular companies and firms, have come and gone during the 13 decades Flynn’s Store has been in operation. When asked about the secret to success, Harold simply stated that it comes down to dedication. And, of course, the location doesn’t hurt either.

“It’s commitment on the part of the family that keeps it going,” he said.

“Location is important as well. Avondale is right in the head of Conception Bay, and population is very sparse, and there are no big box stores. If you need to go to one of these big stores, you’ve got to drive for 20-minutes to half-an-hour. People don’t want to do that every day. So, the answer to success? Location, dedication, and commitment.”

The support the business has received from residents of Avondale and the neighbouring communities over the past century has played a major role in the success that has kept Flynn’s Store alive this long, he said.

Being able to adjust to an ever-changing province and a rapidly evolving economy is something Harold and his colleague, store manager Justin Foote, say is what helps keep the business not only alive, but thriving.

“Not only is this a fifth-generation store, but we’re serving five generations of families,” said Foote. “We’ve kept up with the times, and we’re always changing. We’ve gone from processed foods to healthy, fresh produce. We know our customers – when you walk into a big chain store and you don’t find what you’re looking for, you don’t walk up to the manager and ask to have it in stock. Here, you can do that. We do that.”

Harold agreed. “Every new day is a new page, you turn a new page every day and you adjust your business, and your lifestyle, to the needs of the community. That’s the answer to survival – you can’t live in the past, and you’ve got to move on,” Flynn said.

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