By Catherine Kenwell

I met Denise on a frigid January Monday, one of those dark-all-day winter days. I’d actually made a wrong turn and ended up on Collier Street, in front of the original BOO location. I was familiar with the store’s concept as I’d purchased from similar stores in Portland and Kingston, so I thought I’d go in and say hello.

I wasn’t buying, and I wasn’t looking for a job. I’d recently moved back to Barrie and wanted to welcome Barrie Olive Oil to our beautiful and historic downtown. For years, from afar, I’d lamented the state of downtown Barrie and hoped that an influx of entrepreneurs and small independent businesses would begin to revitalize what used to be the hub of retail and commerce. Barrie Olive Oil was just the type of business that, in my mind, would do that.

Denise and I chatted about ‘the product’ for about three minutes. Then I asked her how business was, how she liked being downtown, and shared the short version of my dream for downtown revitalization. We discussed what brings people to the heart of the city; how the independent and quirky downtown ‘vibe’ was slowly growing.

Then the topic turned to community initiatives. We discussed the homeless situation in Barrie and the plight of the people living on downtown streets. On the door I noticed a poster for “Coldest Night of the Year”, a walk in support of Youth Haven, Barrie’s lone youth-only shelter. Denise told me that she and the rest of the Barrie Olive Oil team were donating to the cause and were going to be walking in the event. I was impressed; I believe that a healthy community comprises individuals and groups who can provide support and a step up for those in need. It was clear that Denise agreed.

After an enlightening and encouraging conversation, I headed to the door and said casually, “Hey, if you need anyone to help out in the store, I’d be pleased to join you.” Not because I used and enjoyed the product (which, incidentally, I do), but because Denise and her team had the right idea about social initiatives and community support. I wanted to work at Barrie Olive Oil because Barrie Olive Oil cares about its customers, its neighbours, and its community.

And it’s not just lip service. Denise and her team support Gilda’s Club of Simcoe Muskoka, COPE Service Dogs, The Barrie Food Bank, Christmas Cheer…we create baskets for fundraisers and charities, and we take part in golf tournaments and other events. Our staff volunteer in the community as well.

So yes, Denise hired me, and I’m always proud to say I work for Barrie Olive Oil. Because when I do, I usually get one of two responses—“wow, it’s one of my favourite stores!” or “yes, we saw you (BOO) at a community/charity event, that’s where we first heard of you!”

Two years later, we’ve moved from Collier to Dunlop Streets; we’ve opened a south-end location and a Holiday Kiosk at Newmarket’s Upper Canada Mall, and in 2018 we’ll be opening full time in Upper Canada Mall’s new gourmet FOOD market. We’re seeing exciting new retail and entrepreneurial efforts in downtown Barrie.

Denise and I often reflect on our initial conversation. Yes, Barrie Olive Oil has great product, but it’s who we are—our community-minded and socially responsible team of individuals—that allows us to truly make a difference.

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