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Aldergrove shoppers watch Safeway shelves ‘go empty’ before store closes

Store closes Saturday, locals express concern over FreshCo’s product quality
As of Saturday, the Aldergrove branch of Safeway will be shut down and FreshCo, a discount grocery store, will open in its place four months later (Black Press Media files)

After almost 40 years of serving the public, the Aldergrove Safeway store will close on Saturday – then re-open in about four months as FreshCo.

Long-time customers of the grocery store have witnessed a “slow death” over the past few months as store shelves “go empty, one at a time,” local Michelle Draayers said.

Draayers, 55, said Safeway was the first place in Aldergrove she came across after moving here, with “a community feel.”

It is also somewhere the mother faced a “traumatic incident.”

One day, after relocating in 2001 and choosing Safeway as a main grocery destination, Draayers was leered at by two “ferocious” Rottweilers in the store parking lot.

“I was just getting out of the car with my three youngest children,” the mother of seven said, “the dogs began to chase me around the lot, trying to bite me – I was terrified for my life.”

Another Safeway shopper opened their car door, acting as a barricade between the mother and the snarling dogs.

“People were screaming at the dogs to go away,” Draayers recalled.

“Ian [a store employee] was so kind and helpful, even as I was so upset that this had happened to my kids. He called the SPCA. It was like having family there, I felt so cared about.”

Through the 18 subsequent years of shopping at the Fraser Highway branch, many other acts of kindness were displayed on behalf of committed store staff.

RELATED: Aldergrove Safeway workers ‘shocked’ over store closure

“I remember Teresa in the bakery giving cookies to my son, Nathanael, when he was just a young boy,” she said.

Safeway’s in-store bakery baked fresh goods each day. That is something FreshCo does not include in their stores. Instead, they source from local bakeries – their website states.

“It’s this sort of ‘going the extra mile,’ kindness and connection that made me feel like I was more than just a customer,” Draayers said.

A total of 123 employees at the Aldergrove store have lost their jobs.

“I can’t even imagine what Aldergrove is going to be like without Safeway,” Draayers added.

FreshCo is an Ontario-based division of Sobeys Inc., with the majority of its locations in Eastern Canada.

Sobeys acquired the Canadian division of Safeway – including the large retail location on Fraser Highway, along with other retail brands including Thrifty Foods and IGA, in 2013 in a $5.8-billion deal.

“I’m sad because I don’t think Sobeys knows what a neighbourhood store is supposed to be like… having a regard for the people,” she said.

When the Mission Safeway reopened as a FreshCo on April, Draayers visited the location to see what the store experience was like.

“There was a whole bunch of new staff, many who did not go out of their way to make connections with the customers,” she recalled.

READ MORE: Ten Safeways in Lower Mainland to close, union says

Another Safeway shopper, one of 27 years, Marilyn Hunt questions the quality of food that Sobeys will bring in to supply the new FreshCo.

“What kind of quality is it going to be?” Hunt queried. “Is it gonna be all no name brand? Will there still be some organic or gluten-free options that a lot of people go there to buy?”

According to a Sobeys press release issued Jan. 29: “FreshCo stores reflect our customers’ growing demand for fresh, quality food at discount prices. FreshCo stores will feature a bold brand and clear tagline: ‘Lowering food prices.’”

Hunt worries whether the company’s low-prices and price matching guarantee will equate to less than fresh foods in the store.

The shopper has memories of pulling her buggy to the side in a store aisle to socialize with others she’s met at the shop.

“It was always so fun there,” Hunt remembered.

“I feel sad that it’s closing and I really don’t think it’s fair to the employees who have been there for years.”

Hunt recalled Christmases when she would stop by Safeway to order fruit baskets for her trucking company. The floral department staff would remember, from previous years “just what [she] needed.”

With FreshCo – “you won’t have the personability that comes out and helps you,” Hunt said.

The proposed store’s deli offerings will be a self-serve wall of meats, the website states.

Where Hunt will shop for food now – “Walmart probably,” she answered, “and Otter Co-op for meat,” – though she isn’t too pleased about the extra gas she’ll need to get there.

As for those who are staying at the Aldergrove location, only one is for sure – Sherri, the lottery teller who is contracted by a third-party lotto business.

“That’s the only one I feel happy for,” said Hunt, a close friend with Sherri.

Sobeys proclaims pharmacy customers will continue to be served during construction – via temporary locations.

And, Sobeys states, when the store reopens “our customers can expect the same great service from our pharmacy teams.”

In December 2017, Sobeys announced it would convert 25 per cent of Safeways in Western Canada.

This has translated to 609 job losses in total, covering five stores in the Lower Mainland: Aldergrove, Chilliwack, Maple Ridge, Delta and Abbotsford.