AMBERLEY – Another chapter in the history of rural Ontario was written today with the grand opening of the new Amberley General Store. This community institution was built by the blood, sweat and tears of a family that began its life on the other side of world, and made a decision years ago to call this little corner of Ontario home.
The family of Lal and Monika Chouhan and their business partner Vee Sandhu, proudly cut the ceremonial red ribbon in front of the remarkable business that they have invested more than $2 million dollars to create. They were joined by local politicians and most importantly, by dozens and dozens of their neighbours and customers who came to wish them well.
The Amberley General Store is at a busy intersection that also happens to be the border between Huron and Bruce Counties, with the general store just a stone's throw inside the Huron County boundaries.
Lal and Monika, both born in India, came to Canada decades ago, met and married. Close to 15 years ago they started looking for a small business to purchase and by chance, saw an advertisement in the Toronto Star offering the Amberley General Store for sale. “We drove up from Toronto and as soon as we pulled up to that STOP sign at the corner in Amberley, I just knew this was the place for us,” Monika told me today at the grand opening ceremony, attended by a crowd of local supporters. “We put in the offer the same day.”
The business continued to grow. In 2007 they were able to secure the LCBO franchise and not long after, they came up with the vision for a completely rebuilt community hub. The new, 7,000-sqare foot facility includes a well-equipped hardware and general store, the beer and liquor franchise, a Shell gas station affiliated with Edward Fuels, as well as a Mr. Sub and Country Style coffee franchise, operated by Vee Sandhu.
Monika and Lal, as well as some friends and family members, operate this impressive community hub that is a virtual beehive of activity. It also continues to be the central gathering place for a dedicated group of coffee drinkers who meet in the well-lit northern corner of the facility several times a day to solve the world’s problems over a cup of coffee.
That coffee klatsch, self-described as the Coffee and Abuse Club, was represented at the grand opening by Lynn Lowry, who spun some tales about the group’s conversations and ended by summing up what this local business means to the community.
“Main Street Ontario is getting to be a ghost town. But thanks to you, Amberley is booming,’’ Lowry said.
Unfortunately, Lal couldn’t attend the grand opening as he was called away by urgent family business on the west coast. But his wife, their children Muskan and Sangat, Lal’s mother and his wife Monika’s mother, were all in attendance, along with many other friends and family and members of the community.
Vee Sandhu, Lal’s longtime friend and the owner of the burgeoning Mr. Sub and Country Style franchises that are under the same roof, is adamant about his choice to give up the bright lights of Toronto for life in Amberley.
“I just love this place. It is that simple. And I decided to make my life here,’’ said Vee, who was born in Dubai to Indian parents then working in the Gulf state and grew up in India before migrating to Canada. Now he lives in an apartment above the store. “I don’t like the city actually. If I have to go to Toronto, I don’t look forward to it and I can’t wait to get back here,’’ he said, echoing many of those who gather daily for coffee and conversation.
Vee, by the way, lives a sort of double life as a music sensation on YouTube, where his Punjabi folk music garners millions of hits online. The things you find in a small corner of rural Ontario, a place that has from its very beginnings been built by wave after wave of immigrants who came here to find a new life. And now they are part of the fabric of our community.