- the source for market opinions


March 29, 2017 | My Folly

A best-selling Canadian author of 14 books on economic trends, real estate, the financial crisis, personal finance strategies, taxation and politics. Nationally-known speaker and lecturer on macroeconomics, the housing market and investment techniques. He is a licensed Investment Advisor with a fee-based, no-commission Toronto-based practice serving clients across Canada.

It was a year ago that I last wrote about buying real estate. There it was. Pathetic. Lonely. Unloved. Old. Its bricks disintegrating, paint flaking, foundation sagging, with its dusty guts full of knob-&-tube, asbestos and dead bugs. But I bought this pile of misery because it’s a cool place. Potential. Then I told Dorothy. After all, it’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is permission.

Well, time for an update plus all the evidence you might need that I actually do like owning property, especially oddball places with history. It was built as a boozy hotel 130 years ago when men were men and quarried rocks for a living in the Credit River valley northwest of Toronto. Then it became a post office, a general store, biker hangout, restaurant and failed vegan salad bar before spending the last few years quietly disintegrating.

Largely original in its form, sitting on a big lot in a little hamlet with a creek running through the back and tourists flowing through the front, the structure cried out for some insane person to rescue it. So I did. Over the course of four months the dead, decaying bricks were pried out and replaced with ones made to match. The foundation was jacked. Stones inserted. Cement laid. The interior floors gutted, wired, plumbed, foamed and rebuilt. Upstairs the original residential quarters were renewed, downstairs a new retail space created.

Yes, it cost a fortune. Even more than this free blog pulls in each week. But the old lady had come cheap, and the work was creative with a sense of worth that doesn’t really come from turning your basement into a man cave with sex lights. Instead, there was a simple elegance to things built in the 19th Century which, almost a century and a half later, still speaks to people. This pile, I suspect, will be standing long after the $1 million houses being built down the road in Brampton – of particle board, glue and face brick – have been dozed.

So a year ago, my folly and new love, the Belfountain General Storeand ice cream parlour, opened for business. I found myself on Saturday mornings cleaning the grounds, putting out the umbrellas, mowing and performing minimum-wage labour with profound pleasure. Of all the things I’ve done in this wizened, imperfect life, whether walking into the House of Commons or speaking to ten thousand people, sweeping a patio has become oddly relevant. Now I realize I’m house-proud, too, and it’s not even a damn house. Just an old place to hang out with people who come to hang out.

So there are 19 folks who have jobs in a little speck of a place in Caledon who did not work there before. I am proud of that as well. They bake muffins and croissants, craft bespoke sandwiches and soups, scoop boatloads of ice cream and make people laugh and stay. Largely they’re kids – high school or university, with a couple of older managers. Locals, too. Most walk to work. As people did in 1888. There might have been a horse of two involved, though.

It’s not all bucolic. The health inspector has made her mark, since the store draws its water from the river as it did in the distant past, and must be pure. Municipal politicians are always fussed about traffic and the number of visitors who want to flock here. The property is subject to the rules and regs of the Town, the Regional government, the Niagara Escarpment Commission and the local conservation authority. The time required to keep everyone at bay is epic. Serving meals to people means a great responsibility – coolers always at the right temperature, hand-washing stations pristine, ovens set correctly, food properly prepared and fresh.

To help with that, Lorna, the manager, last year established a veggie and herb garden outside the employee entrance, so the kids can nip out for a killer tomato or a sprig of something exotic. After the doors opened, people came. Getting started may have cost too much, but the business then paid for itself, met payroll, shelled out taxes and financed all that ice cream. It’s a safe bet I’ll never make a dollar of my money back, but neither will I care too much. It’s just too much fun sweeping.

So after being closed for a few winter months, the store opens again for the season on Saturday. Getting ready involved a mess more painting, redecorating, restocking with gourmet hand-made doggie treats, local preserves and unique gifty stuff. My assigned job that morning is to go and wire up the sagging cedar rails on the perimeter fence, put together the new sign announcing the enhanced seven-day-a-week operation, drag picnic tables around, and stay the hell out of the way.

It’ll be a good day.

STAY INFORMED! Receive our Weekly Recap of thought provoking articles, podcasts, and radio delivered to your inbox for FREE! Sign up here for the Weekly Recap.

March 29th, 2017

Posted In: The Greater Fool

Post a Comment:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All Comments are moderated before appearing on the site


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.