| May 07, 2009

Back to HomeFeature Article - May 7, 2009 BL Outdoor Centre celebrates 10th AnniversaryBy Jeff Green

Allison, Bob, Helen and Don Yearwood.

When Bishop Lake Outdoor Centre celebrates its 10th anniversary this weekend, the Yearwood family, Don and Helen, and their son Bob and his wife Allison, will also be marking family history at Bishop's Lake that goes back over 100 years.

The BL outdoor store is one of several related businesses that are run by the Yearwoods on the family property, a 96-acre parcel of land that entirely surrounds Bishop Lake.

Bishop Lake is spring fed and flows into Story Lake through Bishop Creek. The lake is one of a very few deeded lakes in all of Canada. The Yearwoods own all of the land surrounding it; there are no township right of ways to the lake, and the Yearwoods own the land underneath the lake as well. Only the water is a Crown asset, and Don Yearwood jokingly offers to forego charging the province for water storage if they are willing to forego his property tax bill.

When the Yearwoods purchased the property, which had originally been run as a farm, from “Uncle Clarence” Bishop in 1986, they didn't really know what they were going to do with it but they knew they wanted to live in the country.

Bob Yearwood had been living on the property before it was purchased. He had been helping to take care of his great uncle, who was quite elderly by that time. In 1987, Bob's father Don took early retirement from his job as a police inspector in Belleville, and Don and his wife Helen moved up to Bishop's Lake, where they had spent summer vacations for years.

They opened a trailer park on the lake soon after, and even though it was not yet a requirement at the time they invested in a communal septic system for the entire 75-unit trailer park in order to protect Bishop's Lake.

Supplying propane and laundry facilities to the public flowed from owning the trailer park, but by the late 1990's it was time to find a new business so that Bob, who by then was married to Allison, would be able to make a year-round living on the property.

Since everyone in the family enjoys hunting and fishing, opening the BL Outdoor store was a natural.

“The business has been good right from the start,” said Bob Yearwood in an interview last week, “and it has just gone up and up and up”.

Part of the reason for BL Outdoor Centre’s success is the year-round nature of the business. Spring sales were helped out by the spring bear hunt for the first couple of years before it was ended, but in the last year or two the spring turkey hunt has kick-started the business in early May. It is followed by summer fishing and fall hunting seasons, and the new black powder muzzle loader season has been an added bonus.

“We are pretty busy now from the 1st of May right up until Christmas,” said Bob Yearwood.

The support of local sportsmen, which BL Outdoor has enjoyed from the start, has been the bedrock of their business, and the box store phenomena in major centres has been more of a benefit than a hindrance for them.

While the house-wares sections of new Canadian Tire stores have grown, hunting equipment, rifles, even ammunition are less and less available.

The expertise offered at BL is something that is not easy to find elsewhere, and this brings customers in from as far away as Toronto and Pembroke.

Location helps as well.

“Being just south of Road 506 is good for us, because people come from the lakes on 506 as well as from Mazinaw and the other lakes on Hwy. 41. Hwy. 41 is a busy road, and it has been good for all of the businesses on it,” says Bob.

It wasn't always like that. When George and Hester Bishop bought their property in 1907 it was pretty much a backwoods farm. Their son Clarence and his wife Ruby used to sit on the front porch facing Hwy. 41 on Sunday afternoons.

“Clarence and Ruby used to count cars on summer Sunday afternoons,” recalls Helen Yearwood, who had no idea when she was a girl that she would end up living on Bishop's Lake. “You'd go crazy counting cars on a Sunday these days; they never stop”.

The Yearwoods actually have little chance to count cars any day of the week, except perhaps in February. In addition to the store, there is a laundromat to run; the trailer park is at capacity and has a waiting list, and a four-unit motel was opened a few years ago.

There will be events to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the store on Saturday May 9, including $10 propane refills and special pricing on many items.

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