NEWCOMB’S CHINA SHOP – UNCHANGED IN DECADES (August 18/00)

Canning owes its origin to the potato, Clara Dennis wrote in her 1933 book, Down in Nova Scotia. In making this observation, Ms. Dennis must have used Eaton’s Kings County history as a reference source. Eaton said in his 1910 history that “modern Canning owes its existence largely to the potato industry of Cornwallis.”

Eaton expands on his potato reference, quoting an earlier historian who said in effect that Canning’s establishment on the Habitant River was due to several factors. Dr. Benjamin Rand observed that Canning sprung up where it did because of a convenient bend in the Habitant and the nearby meeting of roads and a dyke. The roads and dyke may have been of Acadian origin, but this is speculation on my part.

Along with Kingsport, Canning later became well-known for shipbuilding. By the middle of the 19th century, Canning was a thriving town, its success perhaps due to the potato, perhaps to shipbuilding and perhaps to its strategic river location which Rand said was a “natural one.”

According to Eaton, seven stores opened in Canning between 1839 and 1853. Since Canning was swept by a number of disastrous fires, the first in 1866, it’s unlikely that few of the original stores remain intact today. One of the oldest Canning stores was established before the first great fire and was rebuilt after being destroyed. The store is still in operation today and may be one of the longest operating, privately owned retail firms in Canning and perhaps in Kings County.

L. Newcomb’s Chinaware was established by the Kennedy family before 1866. James K. Kennedy, the original owner, sold china and household necessities such as groceries. Kennedy’s son, James E., took over the store after his father’s death. His daughter, Gladys, was the third generation to own the shop, assuming operation in 1946 when her father died.

In 1964 the store changed hands again. Lois Newcomb has owned and operated the china shop since the 60s. Previous to purchasing the business she worked in the shop for several decades. “Fresh out of school and good with numbers,” as she puts it, she was hired by James E. Kennedy as a clerk in 1938. Newcomb clerked in the store until she purchased it in 1964 from Gladys’ widower.

Writing on Canning and the Newcomb store in a 1990 Advertiser story, Heather Frenette observed that “passage through the shop doorway transports the browser into another time.” Inside the store, Frenette said, prices are about the only things that have changed. In 1938 when Newcomb began clerking in the store, a Royal Albert bone china cup and saucer sold for 90 cents. Some 50 years later, when Frenette did her story the price of the cup and saucer had reached $36; today the regular retail price is $59.

Lois Newcomb has indeed seen many changes in Canning since she began to clerk in the china shop 62 years ago. But while Main Street Canning and the business district has changed drastically, the interior of the store remains practically the same as it was more than half a century ago. The general decor of the shop is quaint in an old-fashioned way, the shelving and paneling reminiscent of our grandparent’s time.

“I try to keep things old style if I can,” Lois Newcomb says of her shop. She stopped selling groceries when a supermarket opened down the street, but the fine English bone china is still on her shelves.

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