A couple who recently opened a general store and bakery in Lawrencetown say the community has come out in support of them and their work after someone vandalized the store’s Pride flags four times in the past month.
Sue Littleton and Candice Zaina opened Bee’s Knees General Store and Bakery in early December after moving to Lawrencetown from Hamilton, ON.
Littleton’s father grew up just outside of Lawrencetown and she spent a lot of time in communities in the Annapolis Valley as a child and young adult. Littleton and Zaina, who met in Hamilton, were married in Ontario this past spring and came to the Annapolis Valley for their honeymoon.
“I had always dreamt of opening a shop in this exact location,” Littleton said in an interview with the Halifax Examiner on Tuesday. “It was a green grocer and butcher shop when I was a kid. I just have very fond memories of it.”
Littleton and Zaina, who both have years of experience in the hospitality industry, said during their honeymoon they decided to sell their house in Hamilton and move to the valley to open the store. The store opened with a slow launch earlier in December.
“Our goal is to be a bit of a general store with a bit of everything and a focus on local produce and locally handcrafted wares of all sorts,” Littleton said. “We also have an espresso counter and ultimately we’ll be adding cookbooks and kitchenware because that’s one of my passions.”
“It’s been incredibly successful. There’s definitely way more of an appetite for what we’re doing than we even imagined, which is really exciting.”
‘It was a message being sent to us’
In the summer, before they opened the shop, Littleton and Zaina hung Pride flags from outside of the business. The flags were hanging from a flagpole that was attached to the upper level of the building.
Then just over a month ago, not long after they first opened, someone took the flag down from the shop. Since then, the flag was removed three more times, the most recent incident on Dec. 23.
“We figured the first time it was just some kids or someone being mischievous,” Littleton said. “We thought someone was goofing off and pulled the flag off and the flagpole down with it with no intent of doing any damage. But when it kept happening, it became clear it was a message being sent to us.”
During the most recent incident last week, the person took down the Pride flag and the Mi’kmaw flag the couple had flying from the shop, and left a pile of human feces on both flags. Littleton and Zaina wrote about the most recent incident in a Facebook post.
“We’re not looking for attention, but we really do feel it’s important to create safe spaces. Candice and I are both in our 40s and have been out for decades and have experienced all the possible backlash. We’re pretty firm in our stance on being, as we call it, queer elders so kids know they’re not alone. We’re just going to be putting flags up.”
‘I feel really sorry for whoever is doing this’
Littleton said while she and Zaina both felt discouraged, they’re also feeling positive with the outpouring of the community and beyond.
“I put a post out the second time it happened that was a video just me talking about how we feel about this situation. I sort of stand by that. I feel really sorry for whoever is doing this, that they’ve closed themselves off to some great experiences in life. We’re doing something really fun and exciting and we’re really passionate about what we do. We want to offer great hospitality and really excellent baked goods,” Littleton said.
“We really care about what we’re doing and someone is missing out on that experience and I feel badly for them, that they care more about our sexuality or gender expression than about what we’re trying to do about being community, and making life fun, comfortable, and delicious.”
The second time the flag was torn down, it was an elderly neighbour named Frank who brought the vandalism to the couple’s attention.
“He was so tender and gentle and came to us with tears in his eyes to give us hugs and said, ‘There’s no need of this and we’re really happy you’re here,’” Littleton said. “It was so incredibly touching, but it’s also very representative of the kind of support we’ve been getting.”
Littleton and Zaina reported the latest incident to the local RCMP. Littleton said they RCMP said they would increase patrols in the area at night. The Examiner reached out to the RCMP on Tuesday. In an email, spokesperson Sgt. Andrew Joyce said, “the matter is still open and under investigation.”
Littleton said there haven’t been any incidents since Dec. 23 and they have purchased security cameras.
“We don’t want to keep having this happen,” she said.
‘We’re really here to build community’
In the Facebook post, Littleton and Zaina said they’d like to sit down with the person who took down the flags so they could explain why they’re important to them.
“We’re open to having any kind of civilized conversations with anyone who has questions about why it’s important for us to fly a Pride flag and why being a safe space and being a welcoming space is really important to both of us,” Littleton said. “Whether it’s the person who’s been doing this or anyone who has questions, we’re absolutely open to having those kinds of conversations.”
Littleton said they’re putting the flags back up on Wednesday when they reopen the shop after the being closed for Christmas.
For 2023, Littleton said they’re closing down the business for the first two weeks of January to expand the bakery, renovating the kitchen, expand the grocery offerings, and other “schemes and dreams.” But Littleton has a message to whomever took down the flags.
“We’re really here to build community and be part of the fabric of this beautiful landscape,” Littleton said. “I can’t speak for Candice on this, but I personally really do respect that people do have all different opinions and faith may play a role, and I don’t know if that’s the case or not in this situation, but I respect the right that people have their own beliefs, but not at the cost of my human rights. That I have a right to be safe in my home and in my business and that I have a right to create a safe space for other people.”