Rest of tourism spot aims for May opening
By Eric Lewis
Times & Transcript Staff
Riverview residents who have been holding their breath all this time waiting for the town's first real foray into tourism can exhale -- and prepare for the sweet taste of victory come Monday.
The town's old fire hall on Coverdale Road, now known as the Fundy Chocolate River Station, was expected to open in time for the 2009 tourist season. That never happened, and since then, it's looked like it was stuck in its own little ghost town.
But what wasn't evident from outside the building is that the fine folks at Briggs Maples, formerly Rocky Mountain Maples, have been hard at work for the last several weeks setting up shop. Part museum and interpretation centre, part maple product production house and part retail outlet, Briggs Maples' section of the Chocolate River Station is taking shape.
Yesterday, shelves were being stocked with candy and syrup, while production folks were mixing up the next batch. In the middle of it all was David Briggs, owner of the company his father opened in 1998 and part of a family whose name has been associated with maple products for five generations.
While acknowledging that it's been a frustrating year or so of waiting to finally open his doors to the public, Briggs says the lengthy delay in opening Riverview's tourism centre allowed him time to fully prepare for his company's first proper retail outlet.
"It's been a frustrating battle, but you put that behind you," he says, saying this new venture will allow his company to expand its retail sales market.
Briggs will open his shop's doors to the public on Monday, but the rest of the Chocolate River Station will remain closed until the other tenants -- Olivier Soapery, Ganong Chocolates and an Albert County tourism office -- are ready to go.
Shane Thomson, Riverview's director of economic development, says he is aiming to open all doors in the building in early May, followed by a grand opening in early June.
Briggs Maples and Olivier Soapery have both signed their leases in recent weeks, and while Ganong hasn't yet, Thomson says all signs show that the company is still on board with the project. A representative of the St. Stephen company was unavailable for comment yesterday.
Thomson would not comment on the terms of the leases that have been signed, but he said all tenants are in the facility for "the long haul."
The Chocolate River Station project was supposed to open in time for last year's tourism season, but various problems with the old building caused delays. Also, the town's then-economic development officer moved on and the position was vacant for many months, meaning no one could dedicate their time to the file. Thomson came on the job in November and has been working on the project since.
While things might be bare throughout much of the building currently, David Briggs' operation is well underway, and it's clear a visit to Briggs Maples won't just be a trip to the sweet shop.
Walking into the shop's main doors off the Chocolate River Station's parking lot leads one into a mouth-watering maple marvel -- large shelves and several displays are stocked full of sticky, sweet maple products. Maple trees are set up as decoration that give the store the scent of a forest.
Walk through the store and down a hallway and you'll be able to see maple experts mixing, pouring and hand-crafting the good stuff through large glass windows. Briggs says the beauty of his setup is it allows folks to learn how maple products are made.
"A lot of people go to the grocery store and see (syrup) in a bottle and have no idea how it got there," he says. He's hoping to change that.
Finally, at the end of the hall, there are more trees for decoration and shelves lined with artifacts from the maple industry's history. The Briggs family has been in the maple business "for five generations that we know of," David Briggs says, and he wants to share the history of the business with patrons.
Upstairs at the old fire hall is a large area with several empty rooms that Thomson says are open for prospective tenants to consider, including one large room that could make an ideal setting for a restaurant or food court-style area. There's even a balcony overlooking the Petitcodiac River that allows a surprisingly stunning view of Metro Moncton.
"If you're in the hospitality industry and you see the opportunity for this type of summer balcony atmosphere, I think you're onto something," Thomson says.
Also upstairs, the Downtown Riverview Business Association plans to set up shop, moving from its current home in Riverview Mall.
Behind the building is a large patio and boardwalk that Thomson says will likely be used for community events in the summer and could perhaps serve as a weekend marketplace.
Riverview Mayor Clarence Sweetland said yesterday he's excited to see the tourism venture's opening getting closer. He says it was somewhat frustrating to see the project delayed for so long, but notes that when working with an older building, there can often be unexpected issues pop up.
He says the town is excited to see the project reach completion and hopes it spurs tourism interest as the spring weather approaches.
Briggs Maples plans to open Monday and run hours of 9 a.m.-5 p.m. seven days a week. Hours may change in the future. The retail outlet can be reached at 382-3380.