Straight from the source

Krista Armstrong and Sean Gallagher in their new Local Source Market location on the corner of Windsor and Almon streets. Photos: Bruce Murray

Imagine grocery shopping without self-serve cash registers, unsustainable products, and corporate profiteering

It’s a Monday morning, and I’m chatting at the counter with Krista Armstrong and Sean Gallagher in their new Local Source Market location on the corner of Windsor and Almon streets (the original is still on Agricola). The store is closed on Mondays, but a steady stream of local customers comes knocking. Waves and smiles and mouthed apologies are exchanged. And I tell Armstrong she needs to turn this into one of her wildly popular Instagram Reels

It’s no surprise customers want to shop on a Monday morning. Local Source is what grocery shopping ought to feel like every day. 

Racks of drying lavender perfume the entire store, fresh-cut flowers are plonked in buckets, and baskets of fresh produce pickings from the Annapolis Valley are abundant. Goodness lines the shelves: local honey, coffee from Bear River micro-roaster Sissiboo, jams by Helen B’s Preserves on the South Shore, and sea salt from New Brunswick’s Speerville Flour Mill. The fridges hold fresh milk, free-range eggs, and cheese, all produced within a few kilometres.

We could talk for hours when I press Armstrong about her favourite suppliers and products. And suddenly, I realize the gem of this business is that exactly: customers can have these conversations face to face with Armstrong every day. 

Goodmore Kombucha is an excellent product from producers who put love and care into their products,” she says, barely pausing for breath. “We’ve been in love with Sutton Vertical greens in the dead of winter. They taste like a little bit of sunshine. Espresso 46 is new to our Windsor Street shop, but not to our hearts. What a beautiful product. Ted Hutten has been supplying us for years, and we are always excited to see what he’s growing. Two Birds One Stone flowers always bring a smile to my face. I’ve always wanted to have a flower selection in our shop. A few years ago, Sarah and Kenny from Two Birds came on board, and we’re fortunate to have their blooms from spring to fall. Everything in our store, we try first.”

It’s a grocery store focused on the experience, reaffirming the notion that every time you spend a dollar, you’re casting a vote of sorts.

“We wanted to create that feeling of old-school grocery store charm,” says Gallagher. “I never wanted the first store on Agricola Street to have the feeling of a pricey health food store, and neither did I want it to be a hippie place. The idea was always to be a neighbourhood grocery store and showcase excellent local Nova Scotia produce.”

Raised on the coast in Durban, South Africa, Gallagher grew up surfing. “After my family moved to Ottawa, I knew I had to pick a university at the ocean,” he laughs. “My side hustle started as a sandwich bar called Fresh in Grad House at Dalhousie. I would make everything myself, using my South African molasses seed bread recipe, which ended up being one of our biggest sellers at Local Source. I would drive to the Valley, pick currants and blueberries, and make jams and compotes for the sandwiches. It was rustic, comfort food and very local, which people loved long before local was the ‘it’ word.” 

Not long after university, Gallagher was a fully-fledged entrepreneur, growing his sandwich bar into a catering business called Terroir — Local Source Catering. In 2007, he took over the lease of the Samosa Hut & Grocery on Charles Street, bought out the equipment, and continued to run a wholesale samosa business behind the scenes, eventually funding Local Source Market. 

The grocery store started in 2008 as a slow and steady retail shop that eventually outgrew the space before moving to its current location on Agricola Street in 2014. It was on a catering assignment at Lightfoot & Wolfville that Gallagher met partner and future co-owner Armstrong, who was working as the winery’s events manager. 

By 2018, Armstrong was officially operating the Local Source Market with Gallagher focusing on the kitchen and bakery, which remained an integral part of the new retail-focused enterprise. (That same year, Armstrong shut Lion & Bright, his café and bar next door, to focus on the grocery store.) Using their combined years in hospitality, they provided a customer-focused retail experience that hustled through the lockdown, prompting them to take over an old garage space and open their second location. 

“Local Source has always been aimed at the foodie,” Gallagher says. “It’s for someone who walks into the store and cares about ingredients and shopping seasonally for something to cook for dinner. Small greengrocers have become rare in our society, but it’s something that people still want. They want to be able to ask questions about what they’re buying and feel a sense of connection to the place. So, it feels like important work to feed people seasonal food from our local farms and provide fresh daily bread.” 

The best way the couple has come to describe the two shops is that the Agricola Street store is aimed at the single, young shopper and is still very reflective of the energy of the North End. The West End location has a different frame of mind. 

The couple now has a young family and feels like they’re on the cusp of a growing community of young families in the neighbourhood. “I wanted our second location to reflect this stage in our lives and be conscious of the families who will shop with us,” says Gallagher. “It’s more accessible and spacious, both as a destination and as a part of a neighbourhood. It has more capacity to meet the demand for local, quality food.” 

“And we’ve also added tiny shopping carts for the kiddos,” adds Armstrong. “We’re really proud to be here, and we love it when people tell us it’s their first time in. We always say, ‘Try the bread! That will make you come back.’ The community and neighbourhood’s warm welcome has signalled that we’re doing good work. Funny how you forget all the stress and behind-the-scenes work of opening a new business so quickly after the doors open.” 

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