The doors are open until later this month, but apparently there will be no new food shipments coming into the SuperValu in Houston. The shelves are almost empty.
Houston Mayor Shane Brienen is optimistic a new grocery store will come to town, although it may be several months, even after a decision is made, before it could open.
“It will not stay this way,” he said. “We are a decent sized community at about the 4,000 mark, and we don’t foresee a difficulty in getting a store in the area. There seems to be lots of interest. There are three, possibly four chains looking, and a couple of independents and a few local groups.”
Sanj Sadhir, the owner of BV Foods in Houston, is one of the local interests thinking through how to resolve the community’s grocery needs. As a longtime resident, he’s upset at the interruption in service, and as an entrepreneur he believes there is an opportunity to bring in better service.
“Even five years ago if someone had said to me that our main grocery store was shutting down I would have said that was unbelievable,” said Sadhir. “There had been rumours for a while but essentially this came without warning.”
As a local food store owner, he has already responded to local needs. He’s bringing in frozen meat and talking with local suppliers about bringing in fresh meat. He’s noticed an increase in his dairy sales and some other items, but some steady selling products like tobacco are decreasing, possibly because people are stocking up when they shop out of town. He said he will continue to look for ways to improve what’s available.
“We need to explore these things,” he said. “You can’t go to Smithers or Burns Lake to buy your bananas or apples for a whole week. And you can’t go there for other basic items (when you need one or two small things at a time). I am doing the best I can with the limited space I have now.”
Brienen said he has no word on the timing for a decision. He said there is a lot going on in the background, and that includes c o n v e r s a t i o n s between the Town and the Mall owners about existing lease agreements with Loblaws. Options for a new grocery store include building a new store or moving into the existing SuperValu space. Either way, it appears Houston residents will be waiting a while.
“If somebody were coming in to build a store it would for sure be a while. And there would be a significant amount of renovation needed if somebody were to move into the mall,” said Brienen.
Sadhir echoes Brienen’s thoughts that it could take some time. “This is an opportunity for positive change,” he said. “But even if somebody was to go in (to the existing SuperValu) tomorrow, they would need four to five months for renovations of that existing store. Because I don’t think there was much done since the building was built. So a lot the equipment would need to be updated.”
Re s p o n d i n g to advice from economist Michael Shuman not to go with another chain, Brienen said, “I don’t know if a chain is better than an independent. You would think a chain would have better purchasing power. But I have also heard that independents can do very well, so I have heard both sides.”