Guelph's FreshCo grocery store will be changing ownership soon as longtime franchise owner Susan Beirens is set to retire.
Beirens took over management of the store in 2004, when it was still called Price Chopper and had about half of the square footage it has today.
“I just came to fill in, to help out one night. The franchisee was leaving so I came in to help out and I ended up staying,” said Beirens.
“I came the next day and they asked if I wanted to stay a couple of months, just until they found somebody. I said sure and a couple of months went by and they said ‘you might as well just stay here.'”
Beirens took on the role of corporate manager for a few years. When head office challenged her to double her sales in order to get a renovation, Beirens said she was gung-ho and took it on.
The store hit that goal and the store was renovated in 2006, taking on more of the parking lot and doubling the square footage.
Beirens said the store stayed open during the renovation. This caused the store to be creative with moving around departments and playing ‘Where’s Waldo’ with the deli counter.
“They put the deli on a platform and moved it throughout the store. We used to say, ‘where’s the deli today?’”
During the renovation, especially when the old conveyor belt system was stripped out, Beirens and her staff began finding old cans, flyers and a TV guide from the 1970s.
“It was like a treasure hunt when we were pulling the store apart,” she said.
The current site of the FreshCo grocery store at Speedvale Avenue East and Stevenson Street North was previously home to a drive-in movie theatre before the original Dominion grocery building was constructed in the 1950s.
The Price Chopper name was phased out and in 2011 the store was rebranded as FreshCo. That’s the same year Beirens took over franchise ownership of the store.
“It was exciting because it was something new. It was totally hidden from everybody, we had no idea it was being rebranded,” said Beirens.
The store has been very involved with the local community, from assisting the Guelph Food Bank to hosting barbecues for local sports teams and charities. Beirens said every year the staff is involved in the local Adopt-A-Family initiative.
“We have a lot of fun. We’re a tight-knit group and that’s the part I am going to find hard to leave,” she said.
Beirens said the store has supported many staff with a career, or others working their way though college and university or on their way to other careers.
“I have one that is going to be a doctor, she is in her fourth year. We have had carpenters, electricians, plumbers and people who have gone off and gotten married and bring their kids here now,” she said.
Beirens began her career in the grocery business at age 15. She went on to work for companies like Miracle Mart and Loeb before eventually ending up with Price Chopper.
Ownership of the FreshCo store will be taken on by Ryan Stevens, who lives in Guelph and currently owns the Orangeville location.
“He is so excited to start here. He has a young family, so he will be closer to home,” said Beirens. “I am so glad it’s him taking over the store. I know he’s going to treat my customers and my staff with the same respect I have treated them with.”
The store is full of stories, said Beirens, like the couple who came in to have their wedding portraits taken because they first met in the store.
“She came in wearing the white gown and the whole nine yards,” she said.