Nourishing Community Connection: Daughters General Store

By Emily Coppella

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the corner of John and Patrick in the Inner Harbour area became a place for residents to pick up last-minute groceries, take their kids for a weekend snack, and enjoy both local and international treats.

Daughters General Store is nestled right in the neighborhood at 63 John Street, but a simple look at its Instagram feed and you’ll understand just how vibrant the store is. The owners, Norah and Erik Petersen, are dedicated to selling food products from local, regional, and international vendors. If you’re lucky, you might arrive on a day when they’re selling bouquets from local cut-flower gardens or fresh, organic herbs. The store is an eclectic mix that’s grown to include everyday staples and yummy sweets, while also catering to unique diets such as gluten-free, vegetarian, and plant-based.

Kingston residents will recognize some of the highlights from our local bakeries here, such as fresh scones from Wilton Wheat Kings or donuts from Knifey Spooney. While exploring some of the local offerings, you’ll also come across some regional products like cheese from a Guelph fromagerie or coffee from a shop in Hamilton. The Petersens deem their sunny spot in the Inner Harbour area a neighborhood grocery store. We spoke with Norah about how their travels and the history of small, local grocery stores inspired them to open their business.

“Just the idea of having a business embedded in a neighborhood really excited us. Every neighborhood used to have a grocery store really close. You would walk around the neighbourhood, like in Toronto –or here – and see these storefronts that have been constructed into houses or apartments that used to be corner stores…They were, at one time, stores for you to actually get all your groceries. We really liked that idea. We lived in New York City for a long time and there still are little grocery stores there or bodegas on every corner and they’re really like the centre of neighbourhoods.”

The Petersens have lived in several different places and discovered, when they settled in Kingston, that there were some beloved foods they couldn’t get here. So, what began as what Norah claims a “selfish pursuit of the delicious, vegetarian comfort foods” they craved, turned into a collection of products customers return for again and again.

The store also brings in new products all the time – often highlighted in real time on their Instagram feed – so that every visit is different from the last. Social media may be relatively new to the owners, but the Petersens find it helpful to spend a portion of their evening discussing which items they should feature the next day. They say it’s been essential for not only bringing in new clients but building another source of connection during the pandemic.

In fact, the store opened in October 2020, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Cultivating a sense of community has been vital to the business atmosphere. Norah explains that the fun foods they import internationally help cultivate a sense of travel during a time when we’re all staying home:

“We have cookies from Italy because we spent some time there and it just reminds us of those times. We have Marks & Spencer cookies, British cookies, and we just bought them because we thought they were cool, but we found that our customers really, really, connected them with something special…I think especially at this time when we’re not allowed to travel anywhere, having things that remind us of other places is special.”

The Petersens were delighted with the positive response their business received from the community. Norah stated that providing a space people can go to during their work-from-home routines has been an “island of normalcy amid the pandemic,” even if social distancing measures had to be put into place.

Petersen shares her favourite part about supporting the Inner Harbour area: “I think that it’s a place where people can come together and eat and get their daily essentials. One thing that really makes me happy is when somebody comes in at the end of the day before dinner and they really need an ingredient that they forgot when they were at the grocery store, or something to finish up their dinner – and I happen to have it. It always makes me really happy. It’s a place you can rely on to get something but then also it’s a place where the kids can come get a popsicle.”

The Petersens are dedicated to their desire to simply connect people by building relationships with customers and introducing them to other small businesses. While the store may supply Patchwork Gardens greens or Reinink Family Farms eggs, and even products from places we might not be able to travel to, their ultimate desire is to nurture relationships. By being embedded in the neighbourhood, Daughters General Store has made buying food more than enjoyable. They’ve made it a community experience.