Five decades of family, fun and fresh local products

- November 6, 2019

Priscilla and Eric Jennings in front of the iconic Masstown Market. (Provided photos)
Priscilla and Eric Jennings in front of the iconic Masstown Market. (Provided photos)

What used to be a roadside fruit and vegetable stand is now a growing local landmark that travellers within Nova Scotia can’t seem to pass by.

“It’s not only a destination,” Eric Jennings (Class of ‘58), founder and owner of Masstown Market explains. “It’s an experience.”

“It seems like everyone knows where the Masstown Market is,” wife Priscilla Jennings adds with a smile.

Owned and operated by the Jennings family, the Masstown Market is a one-stop shop for delicious and unique local products. Nestled along the Trans-Canada Highway, anyone travelling to or from central Nova Scotia is likely to pass directly by the Masstown Market, making it a popular tourist destination in the summer months.

An award-winning, family owned business, the Market has built its reputation around great service and fresh, local foods. Marketgoers will find fruits and vegetables, home-style baked goods, delicatessen and gourmet products, a café, dairy bar, Grapes and Grains Nova Scotia Liquor Commission boutique, unique giftware and fully stocked garden centre. Over the years, the thriving family business has grown to include the Masstown Butcher Shop, Masstown Creamery, The Peg, Masstown Lighthouse, Wharf and Fish Boat, Masstown Petro Canada and Tim Hortons and a satellite store in the Community of Five Islands.

This year, the Masstown Market celebrates its 50th year in business. As part of the celebration, the Jennings family sought a way to recognize their loyal customers and community who contributed to the success of the Market over the past 50 years. As a lasting token of their appreciation, the Jennings’ decided to establish an endowed bursary to provide financial assistance for students at Dalhousie University Faculty of Agriculture who aspire to start or expand a family business in Atlantic Canada. The $100,000 gift creates a lasting legacy that will have a tremendous impact on students and the agricultural businesses that are the backbone of our region in the years and generations to come.  

“The Agricultural Campus is an important economic driver in our community,” Laurie Jennings, son of Eric and co-owner of Masstown Market, explains. “We are in a position to be able to support others and we want to support those who want to encourage entrepreneurship in Nova Scotia. Entrepreneurship and supporting the economy is important to our family- that’s where the Masstown Market all began.”

While the Masstown Market is highly regarded and widely recognized, it wasn’t always the local landmark it is today. The booming business began as a small farm-gate fruit stand that Eric started.

“When we started 50 years ago, we had no idea it would end up where it is today,” Eric admits.

In 1969, Eric started the Masstown Market as a way to provide some extra income to his growing family. A crop farmer himself and recent graduate of the Nova Scotia Agricultural College, Eric decided to sell his crops to his community.

“We were raising three children,” Eric explains. “I was looking for a way to make a little extra money and to share the fruits and vegetables that were produced on our farm.”

With less than $500 to start the business, Eric partnered with a close friend and neighbour to buy the land for what would become the Masstown Market. He spent the following months working off the payments he borrowed from his business partner to purchase his half of the land.

“Back then you could do that,” Eric says. “You could make a deal with a neighbour on nothing but a handshake.”

In little time, locals began flocking to what they started calling “the Fruit Stand” for the fresh, delicious fruits and vegetables. With a few campgrounds in the area, the Jennings family began stocking their stand with basic grocery items to meet the needs of their customers visiting from away. As time passed, Eric and Priscilla began stocking the shelves with more products at the Market. Little did they know, it would quickly evolve into the empire it is today.

From the day the Masstown Market opened, Eric made his customers his top priority. Fifty years later, he attributes much of the Markets success to listening customer feedback. While the Masstown Market has not operated under a formal business plan at any point in its lifespan, the family-owned store continued to grow. By 1973, four years after the Masstown Market opened, the market had tripled in size. Eric’s close attention to his customers may very well have been the key to the success of the growth of the Masstown Market.

“Customer experience is one the most important things to us here at the Masstown Market,” Eric says.

Not only is customer experience a top priority, family is important to the Jennings’ as well. To say the Masstown Market is a family affair would be an understatement. All four of Eric and Priscilla’s children played their own role in building the Market to what it is today. As Eric’s children step up to build on the foundation that he laid, his grandchildren are also involved in the Masstown Market in different capacities.

“Wade, our oldest son, was always the to-do fella, there wasn’t anything around here he couldn’t fix,” Eric smiles. “Laurie was the business part, he talked to the customers every day. My grandson, Tristan, now manages the butcher shop.”

But the family ties don’t stop with the Jennings family. The longest standing Masstown Market employees are two sisters who have been working at the Market for over 30 years. Bonnie McLean and Lisa Mcrae both started working at the Market when they were teenagers, scooping ice cream in the dairy bar. Today, the sisters still work at the market, although have been promoted from scooping ice cream and have never worked anywhere else.

“Not only do we have families working at the Market, we think of our employees like family,” Eric says. “We employ around 200 people with a few more hired in the summer during peak season. We feel proud to see our employees come to work everyday with a smile on their faces and  knowing they are happy to be here.”

Although Eric stills plays a part in the operations of the Masstown Market, it is Laurie who oversees the day-to-day operations. Like his father, Laurie operates the business on the principle of customer satisfaction. Despite overseeing business operations, Laurie can often be found on the front lines, bagging apples, stocking shelves and interacting with customers.

“Innovation begins with the day-to-day stuff,” Laurie explains. “We have to listen to our customers and adapt with how times are changing. Our priority is making decisions based on feedback from customers as opposed to increasing profitability and our bottom line. Our measure of success is attracting people to Masstown.”

As for the future of the Masstown Market, the Jennings family has some plans for yet another expansion, although nothing set in stone.

“The Masstown Market is never complete,” Laurie hints. “We’re always expanding. We listen to our customers and try to bring in products or expand the property to satisfy the customers needs. Our customers always come first. Our next expansion will once again be based off of consumer demand. We’re excited to see what the future holds for the Masstown Market.


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