Chelsea Dépanneur celebrates golden anniversary
Chelsea has seen a world of change over the last 50 years, but one thing has remained the same: the Dépanneur M&R has been a reliable source of daily essentials, local news, after-school snacks, and a friendly face behind the cash since 1973.
Fifty years ago, Micheline and Ronald Pigeon, who hailed from small towns in Eastern Ontario, moved to the Hills and opened a corner store near the heart of Old Chelsea village. They lived in an apartment above the store and raised their family there.
Martine, the Pigeon’s youngest daughter, recently told the Low Down, “My parents were a great team and great leaders.”
They became fixtures in the community — Martine, now 47, said she realized as an adult that when locals would come into the store they might buy milk or bread, but what they were often there for was to see “a smiling, familiar face and to make a connection.”
Micheline passed away in 2005, and in 2011 Ronald approached Martine to let her know he was thinking of selling the store.
“When my dad mentioned he was looking to sell, that hit home, and I thought, ‘Nope,’” said Martine, who officially bought the store from her dad on January 1, 2012. “I quit a really good job in the hotel industry, and I came back to the store.”
Martine knew the business inside out already — she and her sister had grown up working there, putting away groceries after school and running the cash as a part-time job during high school.
“It wasn’t always easy,” Martine said, “but it’s given me a real sense of work ethic, and it’s made me who I am.”
Ronald still helps out at the store, coming in at a quarter to six every morning (when he isn’t wintering in Florida, that is).
“It has been pretty amazing to be able to work with my dad side-by-side every day,” Martine said, adding that he and Micheline “were great mentors.” She said she hopes that her own children will say the same some day. Both Martine’s daughters, 17-year-old Sydney and 15-year-old Audrey, work at the store now, too.
In 50 years, Chelsea has seen dramatic changes: the village has grown, and new housing developments, schools and businesses have cropped up on all sides of the M&R, which has remained largely unchanged since the 1970s. Martine has fond memories of watching a village grow up in the aisles of her little dep.
“People who used to buy candy here now come in with their children who buy candy from us,” Martine said. “We’ve had former employees who come back, and they’re doctors and lawyers and police officers now.”
The M&R has been selling the Low Down for about as long as it’s been open. The two businesses have a lot in common: Martine buying her father’s store parallels Nikki Mantell taking over the newspaper from her father, Art. And of course, the Low Down, just like the dep, got its start in the fall of 1973. Martine told the Low Down, “We get the delivery between 9:30 and 10:30 [on Wednesdays], but if the paper is late for whatever reason - oh my god it’s like the end of the world. It’s not just a weekly paper, it’s like oxygen. People look for it - it’s a huge part of the Wakefield, Chelsea community.”
Chelsea has been home and playground to many of the region’s powerful and famous. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and his family would occasionally shop in the store with RCMP in tow. Martine said that Margaret Trudeau would often stop by, chat with her parents and then leave an infant Justin behind the counter in a playpen while she did her shopping.
But it isn’t the elite that have made the M&R successful all these years.
“Hands down, it’s the community that’s kept us going,” said Martine. She said she also credits her “amazing staff.”
“If I didn’t feel like I was making a difference, I don’t think I’d wake up at five in the morning every day,” she said, adding, “I’m proud of my little store, and that we are three generations now. It really is a true privilege doing this job.”