Sobey’s closure – possibly good for our business, but bad for the community

You may have heard that Sobey’s on Jasper and 104th is slated to close at the end of July 2014. Check out the article in the Edmonton Journal. Here are my thoughts on it.

Many people have mentioned that with Sobey’s closing that it should be good for business. Perhaps. But it is a great loss for the community.

Healthy and vibrant down towns should have grocery stores. It is where people live. There should be hardware stores, inexpensive eateries (not inexpensive fast food chains), places to sit and gather, lots of space to walk, ride and park a bicycle, schools, and entertainment. But it is grocery stores that provide the daily or weekly needs of those living and working in the downtown core.

It is my hope that a smarter food chain steps into the space they are vacating at the end of July. This store will provide the base needs of a larger community than Earth’s General Store could ever service. We will do our utmost to service the needs of whomever chooses to stop in and support our store but please bear in mind that we are a small store and therefore can’t handle the volume that such a larger store handled.

Earth’s General Store addresses a niche market – people that want to support a local independent business, purchase certified organic foods, find Fair Trade products, eat more plant based foods, and go to a community store. Very few people purchase all of the groceries from us. They purchase part of their food needs from us and spread their food dollars around the community – Farmer’s Markets, CSAs, other organic food stores, and the national and international food chains. So it is. I am content with this. We don’t have to have everyone’s food dollars all the time. Most chains want to capture as much money from each person that comes through their doors.

I believe that Sobey’s is being shortsighted. They have applied their corporate mindset to all their operations. They expect the same return on investment per square foot on their smaller stores (like the Jasper Avenue store) as from larger stores. I am not asking them to loose money on a venture but perhaps not apply the same measurements as they ‘normally’ would. When they announced the closure they said they would close under-performing stores. Grocery stores provide more than just food – they provide a service and a hub for a section of our society. Sobey’s has turned their backs on the downtown community. I find this very sad.

The other day I was talking with someone and the realization came about that Earth’s General Store is the first independent grocery store to open in the downtown core since… – I lived downtown in the 70s and there wasn’t one then. We had the choice of what little the Bay and Woodward’s Food offered. I believe this is the shift that will make a difference in a healthy downtown community – more local independent businesses.

I was hopeful and grateful when Save-On and then Sobey’s opened up food stores in the downtown core. Communities need food stores. It is my hope that other stores will open in the core to provide groceries to the people that live there and those that work there. Save-On will increase their market share in the core and the lines will be long but we need another grocery store in the more central or on the east side of downtown.

Hopefully there are businesses that are thinking a little differently and more long-term than Sobey’s shortsighted decision to pull out of downtown.

Earth’s General Store will do our best to provide what we can. We look forward to serving this community!