McNeill’s Shell: Part of our community for over 60 years
What’s Up East Hants likes to showcase businesses that are integral to our community, and there are few businesses that have been around longer than McNeill's Shell in Elmsdale.
Don McNeill first operated the business at the airport in 1962. “At first it was just me and my brother-in-law, Ray Doyle. We were open from 7-11 and we worked really hard, but it was challenging. I learned how to start cars that had been sitting in the airport parking lot for too long. I’ve rescued people off the highway in the middle of a storm. The work has always given me a great feeling of accomplishment.”
On July 1, 1977, they moved to their current location in Elmsdale. McNeill's Shell has expanded with the community—today they employ 24 employees. Don’s son, Roy, grew up with the business and took over in 2008.
But while the size might change, their basic offerings haven’t. Locals can still look to them for all their automotive, gas, towing and car wash needs. One of the biggest expansions in the early 2000s led to the inclusion of the convenience store and the car wash—the first in the area. There is also a dog wash connected to the car wash, because Roy McNeill thought this would be a useful service to offer. “Different branches of the business have different busy times,” says Beth McNeill, Roy’s wife, who has worked alongside her husband in various capacities for the past 25 years. “The dog wash is busiest around Christmas time. Everyone wants their dogs spiffed up for the holidays!”
In the volatile times in which we live, the versatility of any company is a vital component of its success, and McNeill's Shell is no exception. “Trends come and go,” says Beth McNeill. “For example, every business is currently struggling with employees, and that is a new reality that we must adapt to. Another difference is that people are keeping their cars longer and fixing them, rather than replacing them. This is also a new trend, though I don’t think it will last. Electric cars are the future. We are following what’s happening very carefully in order to continue to meet the needs of our community, because any business is as good as the community it is located in. And all small businesses contribute to the community. That’s how they grow.”
The McNeill family have certainly contributed to the community. “We never let anyone leave without a working car,” says Don. “If they weren’t able to pay right away, they would be able to pay at some point.” Then he adds with a chuckle, “Although there were times when they never could.”
Don also coached hockey for younger children and ran the Junior B Hockey Franchise, which involved a great deal of fund-raising for equipment and ice-time. There was also a lot of knocking on doors to get signatures supporting the construction of the new rink in Lantz. “I played on ice ponds when I was growing up in Sydney Forks, but I never played on a team because there wasn’t the finances for a rink,” says Don. “My son Roy loved hockey, and he still plays.”
East Hants recognizes these contributions and has returned the favour, with customers and employees giving years of loyalty. Carl Barr can testify to this, since his entire career has been with McNeill's Shell, to the tune of 48 years. “I haven’t been treated like an employee; I’ve been treated like part of the family.”