Hard work paying off: Renovating Digby property into new pub business

Published on February 10, 2017

Saskia Geerts standing in the room that convinced her to go ahead with the project.

©Sara Ericsson

DIGBY, N.S. – It all started with one room. Saskia Geerts and Claude Perreault were looking for a building in which to start their new business, and came across an old house on Sydney Street in Digby.

The house as it stands today, painted in bright colours, with Geerts’ Amsterdam blue standing out. “A lot of people also think the orange is Dutch,” says Geerts, “but this orange is a traditional Maritime colour.”

The house, which had been built as a church, didn’t stun them until they walked inside. Geerts says one room in particular sold her completely.

“This room, with its wooden walls and tall ceilings, had potential. It made me see that this could really work,” she says.

Geerts on the wooden beams they installed: “We took a problem and turned it into something beautiful.”

©Sara Ericsson

She and her husband Perreault, who together own the Digby Backpackers Inn hostel in downtown Digby, started thinking about opening a pub – with separate spaces for a bar and coffee shop – when hostel guests asked them where to go for a coffee or beer.

“They were looking for a sit-back-and-relax kind of place, which was missing around town,” says Geerts.

They began thinking of a new business, and soon after found the building for it. It fit their needs as well as their budget, and was already zoned for commercial use. Its previous owner, Henry Hubbard, had passed away. After that the building sat vacant for a few years.

You can say 'it's a lot of work, so let's not do it,' but if you don't try you never know. Saskia Geerts

Had the couple not bought it when they did, the house would soon have been beyond repair. Geerts says the roof was leaking in at least six places and that the foundation was crumbling.

In its state of disrepair, the heritage house’s restoration would mean lots of work.

 The couple bought the property in February 2015, and have been working on it since. It’s a challenge that Geerts says she takes day by day.

“I think at least once a day we wonder, ‘have we completely lost our minds?’”

Despite anticipating a difficult process, the couple was still surprised by the second floor of the house, which appeared to be almost entirely without support. They then had to reinforce it from the bottom, and used the opportunity to install wooden beams as an architectural accent.

How the house appeared before much work had been started. Geerts and her husband, Claude Perreault, knew they were in for a challenge.

The couple has had help along the way from hostel guests. Working in exchange for accommodations is common within the hostelling industry, and this project is no exception.

An Australian stonemason, who worked with a landscaper from New Zealand, restored the stone foundation. Other guests helped scrape old paint off the siding, and some are currently helping to refinish the floors.

Geerts on the wooden beams they installed: “We took a problem and turned it into something beautiful.”

©Sara Ericsson

Geerts says the community has been hugely supportive, with people often stopping by to offer encouragement. She recalls an instance in December when a woman dropped off homemade cookies on her way to the bus.

“This is why I love living in a small town,” says Geerts.

The couple knew they wanted a colourful house to fit in with classic Maritime tradition. Perreault chose the colours, and Geerts insisted on including one piece of her home – the Amsterdam blue.

The house as it stands today, painted in bright colours, with Geerts’ Amsterdam blue standing out. “A lot of people also think the orange is Dutch,” says Geerts, “but this orange is a traditional Maritime colour.”

©Sara Ericsson

Geerts and Perreault hope the spot will be adopted as a local hangout, and are looking for it to become a venue for local musicians and singer-songwriters.

When finished, the building will include a café section with locally roasted coffee, as well as a pub section featuring locally craft-brewed beers from breweries such as Lazy Bear Brewing. The couple hopes for a May-June start date.

On whether or not she’d do it again, knowing how much work was required, Geerts says to “ask me again in a year, but I think I would. You can say ‘it’s a lot of work, so let’s not do it,’ but if you don’t try you never know.”

 

STORY BY SARA ERICSSON