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New Foodland store opening a celebration despite the pandemic

Mary Clare and Jamie Yeo, owners of the new Foodland Picton store, have worked together in the company since they were teenagers.

Story and photos by Sue Capon
The much-anticipated opening of the new Foodland Picton store tomorrow will unfold without the typical fanfare due to the COVID-19 pandemic and current provincial lockdown – but it is no less a celebration.

The modern, expansive store has been about five years in the making in the $10+ million new shopping centre development at 23 George Wright Blvd., on Loyalist Parkway, just outside Picton.

While racing against the clock this week to close their smaller grocery store in Picton Wednesday night and open the new one Thursday morning, owners Jamie and Mary Clare Yeo were excited, and thankful.

“We’re so excited about the new store, It’s been a long time coming,” said Mary Clare as she packed her vehicle with items needed for opening day.

“It’s been difficult preparing to open a store while running another store – and doing both during the pandemic. But we’ve been looking forward to this for a long time.”

The store had been scheduled to open in 2019 but was delayed due to approvals processes and Ministry of Transportation concerns over access from Highway 33.

“It almost took a year because some people wanted a roundabout there instead of traffic lights,” Jamie explained. “Ultimately they went with traffic lights and that’s what we wanted – sidewalks and traffic lights – especially as there’s a subdivision going in behind, and there will be a lot of foot traffic. I have employees who are walking to work now.”

The second delay last year was mostly attributed to the pandemic, but all is forgotten as the opening at the new location 9 a.m. Thursday approaches.

“We needed a bigger parking lot. We needed a bigger store. That’s one thing we did notice during COVID, is a lot of people felt the Sobeys store was smaller and more congested, even though we kept our numbers down, they felt safer shopping in bigger stores where it was easier to navigate without being elbow-to-elbow with other people.”

Customers entering the store will see a delightful selection of fresh produce.

The new Foodland is about 32,000 sq.-ft, more than double the size of the Sobeys location. As well as allowing more variety and more local products, the Yeos will also no longer need to rent off-site storage, and use a truck and trailer to warehouse stock.

To start, there will be 135 employees at Foodland where they ran Sobeys with 80 full and part-time positions.

Yeo notes significant support from the company and staff to get to opening day.

“We’ve had lots of help and wouldn’t have been able to do it without the support we’ve received. We were full staff at Sobeys and also providing staff here to help with stocking and shelf tags and things like that. It’s been difficult and it will be nice when we can just focus on one store.”

“There’s so many people working in there right now we have been getting people coming in thinking we’re open because they see so many cars parked here.”

The garden section outside of the store was being set up this week.

The new Foodland shelves were stocked this week and tags put in place. The crunch, Yeo says, comes in the final hours with a focus on fresh stock as employees cut meat, seafood salad and fruit for opening day.

“Some of the produce we were able to put out today. We want to have everything as fresh as possible for Thursday.

Yeo notes the biggest draws of the new store, beside expanded groceries in every section, will be a full-service sushi station, hot and ready pizza and convenience meals to go – including fresh chicken, breaded and fried on site; a larger bakery and more room to host and display local vendors.

Jamie and Mary Clare will also continue their long-time support of local charities with an opening celebration gift of $2,500 to the food bank, as well as continued support of the County’s new hospital, the library expansion and the Keep Kids Warm snowsuit campaign, among others.

The opening comes about a week short of the couple’s 20th anniversary of opening the downtown Picton Sobeys store, and for Jamie, more than 30 years since his first job at an IGA in Peterborough bringing in carts, doing carry-outs and stocking shelves.

Like so many other 14-year-olds, Yeo was just looking for a job.

“And I loved it. I stayed right through high school and right after was offered a full-time job and stayed with it.”

Jamie and Mary Clare had worked together for a few years at the Mapleridge IGA in Peterborough but they didn’t start dating until they were 19.

He had taken several courses through the company, and at college, and soon started working on the road for the store.

“That’s how we ended up in Picton. Mary Clare and I wanted to get our own franchise eventually and so when we got here, they asked us to check into a motel for a month and run the store. We ended up living at Picton Harbour Inn for six months and went to them and told them we love it here. We saw the potential.”

Yeo notes it was unique to have a Sobeys in Picton as most are in larger towns.

“Technically the smaller community stores are usually Foodlands but for one reason or another it ended up being a Sobeys.”

Among the retail banners associated with Empire, the parent company headquartered in Nova Scotia, are Sobeys, IGA, Safeway, FreshCo and Foodland.

Yeo notes Foodland Picton is the 10th new build of its new format, and eight other stores have been converted.

While one door opens, another closes. Jamie was greeted by several customers in the final minutes of business at Sobeys Wednesday night.

Rosemary Redmond was among them. She wanted to wish Jamie well and to be the store’s final customer in honour of her husband, Sid, who was the produce manager there since day one.

“Sid was always saying he wanted to stay strong and get better so he could go to the new store,” said Rosemary, “but he passed in 2019.”

Kim Harrington was with Rosemary in the produce department and noted her brother was surely smiling at them that moment as they stood with broccoli in hand. Broccoli, they explained, was an inside joke and both the women chuckled knowingly.

As Kim waited, Rosemary was the final customer Jamie served at the checkout.

Rosemary Redmond was the last customer at Sobeys Wednesday, April 14 at 6 p.m., looked after by Hailey and Jamie.

They wished him all the best at the new store and shared with him that just before Sid went to hospice, they were helping him turn the pages of the Sobeys magazine he wanted to read.

“He couldn’t talk a lot, but he was talking about work; he loved it so much. It meant the world to him… He also was checking out the window, looking to see if the people working were on their break too long,” they added, to laughter all round.

The Sobey’s in Picton, Yeo understands is to be converted into multiple, smaller units mostly due to the fact the parking there does not serve a larger business well.

Next door to the new Foodland, the Dollarama sign was being put into place Tuesday.

At the new Foodland Picton development, the Dollarama sign has been put in place and that store is expected to open within a few weeks. Next door to that is expected to be a cannabis store. In the areas closer to the road, a Wendys and Pizza Hut are expected.

The Yeos and staff have a long evening ahead of them as they clear one store and put finishing touches on the other. Though the pandemic prohibits a traditional grand opening, they will celebrate the long-awaited achievement – physically distanced, with all precautions in place.

Foodland Picton opens Thursday at 9 a.m. but going forward, will be open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

 

 

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  1. Judy Tester says:

    Looking forward to shopping at the new location. Love that there will be a larger outside garden section. It will be nice being able to find a parking spot. Best of luck to Jamie, Mary Clare and the staff at the new location. Hope to see you soon.

  2. Administrator says:

    Hi Jenn – Google doesn’t know because George Wright Blvd is newly created. Foodland Picton is directly across the road from No Frills, on Loyalist Parkway, just outside of Picton.

  3. Jenn Chaplin says:

    Please tell me where this is on the map. Google maps does not show it at all and it can’t find GW Blvd near Picton at all. ‘Foodland Picton’ displays as a being in the middle of a field near Bloomfield!

  4. Barbara Wallace says:

    It’s a fabulous store! Thank you Jamie and Mary Clare, and your wonderful staff.

  5. Hedy Campbell says:

    Hearty Congratulations to Jamie, Mary Clare, and staff! They have always done a great job serving the community, and we love them.
    Best wishes! See you at the new store!

  6. Bruce Nicholson says:

    Wishing the owners success in this new location!

  7. David Edward says:

    Congratulations and best wishes to Jamie and Mary Clare. They are a couple of Picton’s best assets.

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