Recently our lives have been a whirlwind. As we juggle 101 things we attempt to embrace our fast paced world, especially technologically since constantly learning new skills is the name of the game when you work in digital. Even the world of babies is pretty high speed though. One second they are shriveled up newborns cooing at your brand new faces, the next second there are bodily fluids everywhere and your eldest is screaming at the top of her lungs trying to “communicate” like the baby. Life is rich when you step off the boat and into moving water. We keep reminding ourselves.
In fact we remind ourselves of lots of things, daily. To be grateful. To be mindful. And especially to savour it. All of those mantras are part of the slow movement we’ve mentioned a couple times before, an idea that true to its nature has gradually ingrained itself in our minds as a peaceful and rather aspirational way to be.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons we are so enamoured with history, as returning to yesteryear’s buildings, artifacts and ways of life seems to immediately transport us to simpler times. To that end John Hall’s is like a living museum, a time machine that begins to hum the second you step upon its creaky, 125 years old floorboards. The inventory has certainly been updated, but the floors, the long wooden countertops, and the sign out front still bear the marks of time.
We have a thing for General Stores, but this one is special. It is close to home. It sits on the Grand River, our favourite, with spectacular views from the back. (Make sure you visit when the sun isn’t beating down though, as blinds are sometimes drawn to keep out the heat.) Locals adore John Hall’s and do much of their holiday shopping here; it’s a place to pay attention to during Paris’ annual tax-free Jingle Bell Night in December. Tourists come from hundreds of miles away to experience in this shop the daily activities of their ancestors.
The countertops boast classic products like lace tablecloths and wool booties along with more contemporary tea towel prints, placemats and lush bathroom rugs. We find gifts, homewares, and self-indulgent treats every time we visit. And sometimes we find nothing; the doors open promptly at 9 a.m. each morning so we leave our stroller outside and come solely for the ambiance.
The store was opened in 1891 by John Hall, the son of one of Paris’ first settlers (Thomas Hall, a Scotsman who immigrated here in 1855 and who built the prototypical dry goods store). We recently learned on one of the Paris Museum’s enlightening walking tours that John Hall’s was one of the few stores that managed to avoid the ravages of a disastrous fire in 1900 that consumed over thirty of downtown Paris’ original wooden storefront facades.
During our visit the lovely Pam Watkins allowed us to peruse the store’s private collection of historic photos of the building. We didn’t get to go upstairs – that remains a roped-off mystery! – but we definitely had the sense that this is a treasured space for those who work here as much as for the town.
We confess: Like many people, we occasionally do the Walmart run. It’s easy, cheap and convenient, and when life gets too too fast we sometimes need that. But we try to make up for it when we can, reminding ourselves that stores like John Hall’s carry anything we may need for our home (and if not, they are happy to order it). And can you imagine a Walmart employee taking you aside to sift through historic photos of the mega franchise?
Authenticity is not so easily purchased. It is built up through the years by dust, blood sweat and tears, plenty of which we know have been poured into John Hall’s. It isn’t easy, after all, to keep up with changing times but they have somehow managed. Ultimately it is this authenticity that makes them stand out from other stores, especially many modern ones. We think you can tell the difference.