When Perry Hunnie opened Hunnie’s Mercantile in Clinton in 2017, offering ice cream and homemade fudge, he had a three-year plan for the business. Then came the 2017 wildfires and the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, but neither event has disrupted those plans. In fact, Hunnie says that the pandemic helped move one part of the plan forward.
“We’re doing takeout pizza on the weekends now, and we started that during the pandemic,” he says. “It was in the back of our minds that we’d do it down the road, but the pandemic really pushed it forward because we couldn’t open our doors. We weren’t comfortable doing ice cream and fudge with all the handling, but no one else [in Clinton] was offering homemade pizzas.
“For a time we were the only place to eat in Clinton, and the response was immediately overwhelming. We couldn’t keep up with the orders, and were pre-booked a day in advance for Friday and Saturday nights. We survived through the pandemic doing pizza.”
Hunnie — who describes himself as the business’s owner, operator, and handyman — runs the Mercantile with his father Les and wife Shawna (“She makes the pizzas and I cook them”). They were living on their farm in Alberta when they began looking for a location for their new business, and Hunnie says they kept coming back to the Clinton site, a former gas station/auto sales site that housed the North Road Trading Post for many years (it has moved to another location on Highway 97).
“My father and brother are in B.C., in Merritt and Kelowna, and we were kind of looking in that general area, but we had a wide radius of where we were looking. I don’t know what it was, but we just kept coming back to this location. It was ideal for what we had in mind. The wonderful people here in Clinton were very helpful, and we fell in love with the place and the people, and talked the owner into selling [the property].”
They took possession of the site two weeks before Clinton was evacuated in July 2017 because of the wildfires. When they were able to open, they offered ice cream, homemade fudge, and a few collectibles, and Hunnie says the plan was always to start small and expand gradually. “We had a three year plan, and we’re almost dead on target.”
Perry, Les, and Shawna do all the work themselves, and this year they’ve done a lot of alterations to make the store compliant with COVID-19 regulations. In addition to the pizza, they’ve added slushies and homemade milkshakes this year, and the collectibles section has expanded and moved out of the ice cream part of the store into two former garage bays to the north.
Another new addition is a farmers’ market, which takes place every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the store’s parking lot and will continue through the Labour Day weekend. “I’ve always had a vision of the parking lot being full, just having that kind of an open market feel,” says Hunnie.
“We’ve had a really good turnout. The response from vendors has been very good, and the response from locals has been great. It was unbelievable to see the smiles on people’s faces, and we’ve had so many compliments, people thanking us for doing it. I felt that residents really needed something to do, something outdoors that was COVID-19 friendly, and everyone’s just so happy.”
He adds that the response to the market from visitors has also been great. “There was quite a traffic jam during the first and second markets. Traffic goes slow through Clinton, so there’s a chain reaction when people see the tents. Visitors like that there’s hot food on offer, and we plan to have more outdoor vending carts every day with collectibles, some produce of our own, so that there’s a little extra thing for people to pull over for.”
Until this year the store has been closing for the season in mid-October, but Hunnie says that they plan to stay open with pizza every weekend through the winter. He also drops a hint about a few new things that customers might see come 2021.
“We’re looking at homemade kettle corn — sticky, salty, and sweet — made outdoors,” he says. “We’re also looking at lunch sandwiches, wraps, soups, and what you’d call road snacks: beef jerky, cheese, eat and run stuff that you can take on a picnic.”
Hunnie says that there is always room for more vendors at the Sunday market, although he notes that people have to play by Interior Health rules when it comes to what they offer for sale. Spots are $5 each, with a limited number of tables available for $5 each; to book, call (250) 457-7473.