Elmira’s No Frills store is on the chopping block. The chain’s 232 Arthur St. S. location is one of three No Frills stores in Canada that Loblaws Companies Ltd. will be divesting after its acquisition of the Shoppers Drug Mart Corporation at the end of the month.
The $12.4 billion purchase, approved by the federal Competition Bureau, will lead to the closure of either Shoppers or No Frills outlets in communities that have both. Fourteen Shoppers locations will be sold across Canada, but only three No Frills.
“We’re expecting the divestment process will take several months,” said Kevin Groh, vice-president of corporate affairs and communication for Loblaws. “We’ll begin the process of finding a purchaser once the deal is closed, which we expect will be March 28. But the process we expect to take several months.”
Paul and Adele Henderson, owners of the Elmira No Frills store, declined to comment.
In response to the impending loss of the store, Woolwich council will send a letter to the Competition Bureau asking the agency to reverse its decision. The letter will focus on the already-limited number of grocery markets in the township, the unique travel limitations on those using horse-drawn buggies as transportation, and the potential economic impacts.
The United Food and Commercial Workers Union estimates that the decision will affect more than 120 unionized No Frills workers in Elmira and Blenheim, Ontario.
“Our highest priority is ensuring our members are treated fairly during this process,” said Kevin Benn, secretary treasurer for UFCW Canada Local 1000A. “We will be monitoring the situation closely to determine the appropriate course of action once more information becomes available.
“The information we have is that both stores will operate, business as usual, until buyers are found.”
Pearl Sawyer, president of the Local 1000A, added in a statement, “We continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with our members. … We will continue to ensure that the rights of our members are fully exercised under their union contract and the Ontario Labour Relations Act.”
The Elmira store opened in 2006 without the township’s blessing, an irony not lost on director of engineering and planning Dan Kennaley as Woolwich now moves to try to keep the place in operation.
When the No Frills opened, there were already three other grocery stores: another one was not part of the township’s master plan for food stores in Elmira.
A year prior, Woolwich had allowed Sobey’s Inc. to build a Price Chopper (now the site of a Foodland store) by transferring space allocated for the west end of town to the south. Along with the IGA store downtown, that gave Sobey’s two locations. The third was Selby’s, an independent operating in the Birdland Plaza.
In developing the site at 232 Arthur St. S., Loblaw found the one feasible site to get back into a market. Although the company purchased the building from Elmira Stove Works, the site was once home to a Loblaw operation. Opened in 1976 as a 24,000-sq.-ft. Zehrs store, it was converted to a Mr. Grocer franchise in 1990 before closing two years later. Zoning on the property had never changed, however, allowing for the site to be reborn as a food store.
Because it was a legal use, the township had no way of blocking the development despite the concerns expressed by Kennaley’s predecessor about the size of the grocery market in Elmira.
Although the event predated his arrival in Woolwich, Kennaley said he’s familiar with the history. The grocery issue continues to arise, with Sobey’s having sought expansion at the Foodland site and Walmart expanding its grocery offerings.
For now, if the No Frills does close without another grocery operation taking over, Elmira will be down to just one supermarket. That’s why the township will be writing its appeal to the Competition Bureau.
“It’s funny how things have come around,” said Kennaley of the turn of events.