Powell River’s newest grocery store, FreshCo, is stocked and ready for its June 11 opening.
Steve Wadsworth, owner/operator of Powell River’s FreshCo, said the grocery store has come a long way since the closure of Safeway last year.
Renovations on the store started at the end of November, so there were a few weeks of demolition. Wadsworth said all of the old equipment was taken out and since after Christmas, construction has taken place in the facility. This included new floors, new cases, all new aisles and all new LED lighting, plus an extensive redesign of the store.
“We basically finished construction just last week,” said Wadsworth.
Customers will notice a difference. Safeway had 15 aisles; FreshCo has eight.
“It’s quite an open concept,” said Wadsworth of the new store. “It’s brighter, there’s plenty of room and it’s not too congested. It makes for an easy shopping experience.”
The store is price conscious, said Wadsworth. FreshCo wants to give a choice between national brands and the store’s line, which is Compliments, he added.
“Any Compliments products you found in the Safeway, you will likely find in the FreshCo,” said Wadsworth. “There’s a good variety of selection and pricing for our customers.”
Wadsworth said the store has tried hard to find a local bakery to bake products for the store but has so far been unsuccessful. He said, however, the day may come where they can have that relationship, so if there is anyone out there, to approach the store.
Effort will be made to source BC products wherever possible and Vancouver Island products when available.
Also, in terms of community involvement, FreshCo Powell River has made a donation of $2,500 to Powell River Action Centre Food Bank to provide emergency relief for food bank clients.
In the COVID-19 era, the store has a soft opening planned on June 11, rather than a big, formal grand opening. Wadsworth said opening now is about getting employees back to work and another grocery store open to relieve the pressure on other stores.
“I think it will be great for everyone,” he said.
In order to operate the new store, Wadsworth has hired 120 staff members. He has 24 returning staff members from Safeway, which is “excellent.”
“They were able to maintain their economic terms of employment with Safeway, so they brought back their same wages, vacations and benefits,” said Wadsworth. “Doing this could not be done without them.”
He added that he and his department managers are fortunate to work in Powell River and have been able to put their finishing touches on how the store looks.
“We have a lot of experience with the department managers that I’ve hired,” said Wadsworth. “Three of the four have returned to me from Safeway in department manager roles.”
The pharmacy has remained open throughout the renovation and will carry on in its location with the new store opening.
In order to accommodate customers, the store has eight tills set up for COVID-19 with plexiglass shields; there are no self-checkouts.
“A very important thing for me, and probably my number one focus, my vision for the store, is having the best customer service in town,” said Wadsworth. “Being able to connect with a cashier, and that cashier being able to connect with the customer, is really important. It will go a long way, learning from the customers and seeing what they want in our store and having that interaction.”
Store hours will be 7 am to 10 pm. The first hour will be seniors shopping hour. FreshCo is also staying open an hour later than Safeway did.
“This will help spread it out for everyone and alleviate pressures in the store as well,” said Wadsworth, who has been in the grocery business for 29 years, since he was 16 years old. He started with Safeway in 1991 in Courtenay, where he pushed buggies and bagged groceries.
“Now, I’m still pushing buggies and bagging groceries,” he said. “I’m very customer oriented and find that when you’re on the sales floor and you’re listening to your customers, you can find out what they are looking for and it makes the connection that much easier.
“When you start shopping here it will be a very enjoyable experience. We’re looking forward to seeing everyone in the store on June 11.”