Sandfield store facing hardship as Tehkummah detour shaves 70% off retail trade

Charlene Hyytiainen of the Sandfield Kitchen has lost an estimated 70 percent of business due to a detour in her area this summer. photo by Lori Thompson

Highway 542 detour continues until mid-October

SANDFIELD––Entering the Sandfield General Store and Country Kitchen (Sandfield Kitchen) feels like taking a step back in time. Located in the former Watson’s General Store, proprietor Charlene Hyytiainen has retained the ambiance of days of yore. Antiques abound and the worn wood plank floors provide a sense of comfort and warmth.

However, the Sandfield Kitchen has gone largely unnoticed during construction on the Blue Jay Creek culverts at Highway 542 in Tehkummah. That’s not a figure of speech. While one of the official detours directs traffic to Highway 542, Sandfield is generally by-passed in favour of Government Road by summer visitors.

Sales are down 70 percent in May and June of 2018 over previous years, said Ms. Hyytiainen. This is her third year in operation. “I should be starting to show a profit now,” she said. July numbers aren’t in yet but she estimates sales at 25 percent of expectations.

A lack of customers isn’t the only problem. Not all of her suppliers will travel the detour route, from Tenth Sideroad to Townline Road to Highway 542. If you’re heading down Highway 6 from Little Current, this detour adds 10 to 15 minutes of driving time. The alternate route from Little Current is to detour through Mindemoya, which adds even more time to the trip but avoids dusty gravel roads. One supplier drops off her orders at Ward’s General Store in Tehkummah for Ms. Hyytiainen to pick up. Last week that supplier had a new driver. He didn’t know how to get to Sandfield Kitchen and wasn’t aware of the option to leave the order at Ward’s. The driver couldn’t be negotiated with. On a summer Friday, Ms. Hyytiainen was left without supplies for the weekend. She had to drive to the grocery store in Mindemoya, taking time out of her day and paying full retail prices for her supplies.

Summer visitors to Manitoulin who arrive by ferry can’t follow the usual route of Highway 6 to Highway 542 to get to Mindemoya or points beyond, meaning potential customers take Government Road instead.

Local patronage has also dropped off. While Sandfield is technically a part of the Municipality of Central Manitoulin, it is located physically nearer to Tehkummah. Tehkummah residents have been lamenting the awkward detours and poor road conditions due to the construction almost since it began. Former customers from Tehkummah have been avoiding the area. Local Tehkummah businesses Garden’s Gate Restaurant and Beacon Images were suffering also; however, prominent signage has since been added for those entities.

Ms. Hyytiainen is concerned that a continued reduction in sales will force her to close her doors. “Hydro costs are fixed and high,” she said. Insurance is another fixed but necessary cost. It’s difficult to plan menus, she noted. “I still have to purchase the same supplies or I won’t have anything available.”

There is potentially a lot of waste. “People used to come in and buy whole pies,” she said. “I’m only making pies on order. I was making many times more cookies and date squares than I make right now.”

Everything at the Sandfield Kitchen is homemade, from cookies, squares, pies and other goodies to soup and pizza. Sandwiches, nachos and other items are also available, as is coffee, hand-scooped ice cream and general store items. Ratings and reviews are consistently good.

There is an upside. Visitors to events at the Sandfield Schoolhouse Community Hall often stop in for a light meal or coffee and a treat. Friday night homestyle buffets still draw a regular crowd. Expect ham and scalloped potatoes with all the fixings, including dessert, on a Friday night. Other options have included roast beef or turkey.

Businesses on Manitoulin Island rely on summer visitors to bolster sales but also require the support of their communities and local residents throughout the year. Having a store and eatery increases the vitality of a small community.  Take a meandering drive and make the Sandfield General Store and Country Kitchen a destination. To make reservations or order one of their mouth-watering pizzas, give them a call at 705-859-2151.