More grocery store changes are coming to Chilliwack with the announcement Tuesday that Ontario-based supermarket FreshCo is coming to town.
FreshCo is a Sobeys Inc. brand discount grocery store that has 93 locations, all of them in Ontario.
The new FreshCo will take the place of the downtown Chilliwack Safeway store, and the move spells uncertainty for 115 local employees.
“Customers love it in Ontario,” director of external communications Jacquelin Weatherbee told The Progress. “We’ve repeatedly been told that customers were looking for a strong discount shopping experience.”
According to a Sobeys press release issued Jan. 29: “Our 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.’”
The news comes the same week as it was reported that Save-On-Foods will open its fourth store in Chilliwack in the vacant anchor spot formerly leased to Target at the Cottonwood Mall.
As many as 610 employees, including 115 in Chilliwack, may have already received termination notices the same day as the company announced the changes.
A letter The Progress obtained explains that Safeway is closing, the employees are terminated, and the notice is in accordance with the Employee Standards Act.
“It is with regret that we inform you a number of Safeway stores in British Columbia will be closing and ceasing operations on the dates listed below,” the letter reads. “Unfortunately the store at which you are employed is one of the stores which will be closing.”
Weatherbee explained the notices are issued as per legal requirements, but that many or most employees may find work at other Safeway stores or at the new FreshCo.
“Until this process is completed, we will not know the exact number of employees who will lose their job as a result of these store changes.”
On May 25, the Safeway stores on Yale Road in Chilliwack, Fraser Highway in Aldergrove and Lougheed Highway in Maple Ridge will close, affecting 115, 123 and 129 employees respectively.
On July 23 the Delta Safeway on 48 Avenue will close affecting 97 employees, and on Sept. 7 the Abbotsford store on South Fraser Way will close affecting 146 employees.
Once the stores close, the renovation will take four to five months after which they will reopen as FreshCo.
In total 610 employees are affected by the changes, and there is definitely some uncertainty for them.
One told The Progress that long-term employees will get buyouts, and those with seniority in the union may be able to bump employees out of jobs at other locations in B.C.
“We are working with employees and unions to ensure the terms of their collective agreements are met as we work through this transition,” the company press release said. “As always, we will expend every effort to place employees in other stores within our store network in B.C.
The company said pharmacy customers will continue to be served during construction via temporary locations, and when the store reopens “our customers can expect the same great service from our pharmacy teams.”
The move to convert some Safeway stores in B.C. to FreshCo is actually not new. In December 2017, Sobeys announced it would convert 25 per cent of Safeways in Western Canada.