Residents of Okanagan Falls, 20 kilometres south of Penticton, B.C., will soon be starved of a local grocery store.
The IGA on 9th Avenue is slated to close in September. It’s been operational for 21 years.
Mark McCurdy, the V.P. of retail operations with parent company Georgia Main Food Group, blames the closure on declining customer counts which “has made it challenging to operate at this location for the past few years and so unfortunately we have had to make the decision to close,” he said in an email to Global News on Tuesday.
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Local residents and customers say it will be a blow to the community of 2,500 residents as many seniors with mobility challenges will be forced to travel to Penticton or Oliver to buy groceries.
“It’s not going to be good for anyone who lives here and especially our elderly, half of them can’t drive,” said Linda Jeffrey outside the store on Tuesday.
“I think it is really sad for people on disability like me to not have a place to go shopping, so it’s really sad,” added Dwayne Eisen.
A three-storey affordable housing complex for independent seniors is under construction near the grocery store.
“They’re all going to come and move in here and if some of them don’t have vehicles well we’re going to have to try to get them to town,” said another customer.
The No Frills store in Oliver opened in 2016 and took a bite out of the local grocery store market. Some customers said they travel to the larger centres anyways for cheaper groceries.
“Historically, the prices have gone up and the pricing relates to the customers so a lot of people want to shop here but are unable because of price so they shop less,” said Ron Obirek, the Area D director with the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen.
Obirek is concerned about potential job losses but said he is optimistic another grocery store chain will see it as a business opportunity.
“My expectation, my hope, is that it is temporary, this will create an opportunity,” he said.
“There’s a lot of people who have been supporting this store for a long time and now there is an opportunity for a different service provider to come in and build off of that base, so there could be more jobs and even better service than what we have before.”
McCurdy said 25 people are on staff at the Okanagan Falls location and job opportunities are being offered at other stores, while some employees are retiring.
The closure comes on the heels of a work stoppage at a mega cannabis production facility that was promised to create hundreds of jobs in Okanagan Falls.
Cannabis Company Sunniva said in May that it has suspended all development plans for its Okanagan Falls 759,000-square-foot production facility at the former Weyerhaeuser mill site to focus on its U.S. operations.
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Local residents like Jeffrey said the elimination of the town’s only grocery store will have an impact on attracting new business, jobs and people to the area.
“There’s nothing here really for jobs,” she said. “The young people, I don’t know what they are going to do.”
However, Obirek pointed to manufacturer Structrulam, the Interior Savings Credit Union and the burgeoning wine industry as thriving job creators in the small town.
IGA Okanagan Falls is scheduled to close on September 10.