In the 1998 movie “You’ve Got Mail”, there is a store called The Little Shop Around The Corner. In Oxford, there also is a shop around the corner, more commonly referred to, however, as “the alphabet store”.
“Next year will be forty years of having this store,” says Eric Mosher, now the sole owner of GJDE Enterprises, a name that doesn’t even hint at the gifts and treasures inside the big, old store.
“We moved here in 1974,” Eric says of what would be the Mosher family’s last move.
Before Eric was born in Springhill, George Mosher had operated the Stedman’s store on Water Street in Oxford, only to return to the same location after 13 years of managing Stedman’s stores in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and New Brunswick.
“It’s certainly been a great building and Oxford has been good to us,” Eric says.
It was quite a building for a 13-year-old boy to move into. The store is on the first floor, the family living quarters are on the second while on the third floor...
“That’s Oxford’s first theatre,” Eric explains. “A.E. Smith owned this building. Before he built the Capitol Theatre, he operated a theatre in this building. It was before safety film so the movies were bursting into flames. The projection booth is lined with tin.”
By the time the Moshers moved in, the third floor had been converted into a kind of giant playroom.
“This building was wonderful,” recalls Eric, now 52. “There was a swing up on the third floor and rings you could hang from. It’s a huge open space, 15 feet tall. It was great.”
Eric, who has a Masters of Fine Arts, now uses the vast third-floor space as a studio.
“I paint up there. We’ve rehearsed plays up there and made sets. The mural across the street was varnished upstairs. Because the space is so big. You just have to be able to get [the project] up there and get it out,” he laughs.
He was involved with the Maple Players and hopes to get that group going again and through Visual Arts Nova Scotia, he worked on mural projects in the county. Most often now, though, he directs his creative energy into the store displays.
Has he found it challenging to pursue his artistic interests in a rural area far from Halifax?
“It’s all a point of view,” Eric says. “People will tell me my talent is wasted here in Oxford and I feel if it’s benefiting anybody, it’s not wasted. I don’t really have any big dreams. I’ve done pretty much what I want to do. I’m pretty fulfilled.”
The store has provided an income that supports his artistic endeavours.
“I never pursued trying to make money off my art work.”
Eric got involved in the day-to-day running of the store in 1985, after he’d completed his Masters degree. By then, his father had left Stedman’s and was running the store as an independent. “GJDE” represents the members of the family: George and Joan are Eric’s parents while the D is for his sister Deborah.
On his return, Eric says he told his father they couldn’t survive as a variety store.
“I thought we needed to carry more unique things. We’d never been to trade shows that weren’t with Stedman’s so we started going to trade shows and Dad sort of begrudgingly let me experiment with product. When it started to sell, I got more say in what we were carrying,” he says. “It was fun because we’d go to a show and there’d be people there [with Stedman’s] and they would be saying that it was really difficult and Dad would say ‘You should be trying different things!’ because it was working for us.”
The Mosher’s store perhaps is best known for its year-round collection of Christmas decorations.
“When you’re doing inventory and you have all this Christmas product and you’re packing it away and putting it downstairs,” says Eric, “you wonder why you’re doing that. Why not leave it out and add to it?”
This is his first Christmas without his father. His mother died in 2011 and George passed away this past October at the age of 85.
“Dad is certainly present in the store,” his son says.
Eric’s favourite part of running the store is the people.
“I suppose I’m sort of like my father,” he says. “Dad was certainly a great talker and story teller, and he just loved the people.”
Eric considers himself lucky to have a job that lets him play.
“I’ll be frank with you,” he adds. “I met with people at the beginning of the year because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. You know, I’m not getting rich; it’s a living. But there’s contentment and it’s something I enjoy doing. I’m my own boss and everything’s paid for. As long as I can keep going at it. This is a historic building and it’s difficult to maintain a building of this size. The oil is expensive to heat it. The exterior, and I’ve got a leaky roof back there. There’s not a lot of money to play around with so it’s frustrating.”
A man comes in looking for an Elvis tree topper. Earlier in the week, someone had hoped to find a Nutcracker snowglobe. One couple has bought each of their children a Christmas ornament here for years. Carrying unique gift items means GJDE Enterprises puts a twist on the building’s long history of being a variety store.
Eric is well aware that there is a legacy here, both his father’s and A.E. Smith’s as well
“I feel that. I want to honour the history of the building and the people.”
And that means trying to remember the Smiths and the Asbells but he can’t remember who married who or how old the building actually is and he starts to say, “It’s too bad Da -- ”
Perhaps during January’s quiet time of inventory, Eric will be able to hear the whispers of ghosts telling their stories.