A rural New Brunswick community could be on the verge of losing its only grocery store.
The owner of the Freshmart in Hillsborough, N.B., says he needs to step away from the business for health reasons.
“Right now, I’m looking for a buyer,” says Terry Stafford, the owner and president of the company.
“In the last 12 months, I’ve had some health issues and my wife is really sick, so I need to find an avenue to excuse myself from business. I’m 71 years old.”
It’s a location where the 14 employees tend to know the customers on a first-name basis. And the potential loss for the community is top of mind for residents.
“It would be a giant loss just due to the fact that I know there’s a lot of people around here with no cars,” says Victoria Beck. “This is kind of their only option.”
Barry Snider, the village’s mayor, says the Freshmart is the only option between Riverview, N.B., and Sussex, N.B.
Snider says there are about 1,300 residents in his community, but adds the grocery store serves people living between Riverview and Alma.
“It is a huge hit to our community, we certainly don’t want to see any business close,” he says. “But the grocery store has been a real vital piece of our community for the last seven years.”
Snider says that for the town’s aging community, the possibility of having to travel to Riverview, N.B. — a trip of approximately 30 kilometres — is a difficult prospect.
“(People) can get to Hillsborough because they can drive themselves, but older people sometimes can’t take these long jaunts,” says Doris Pauley, a local resident and advocate for seniors.
Customers say they hope someone will either partner with Stafford or buy the business.
Judy Tait says when she learned about the possibility of the store closing, she was “very upset.”
She would have to drive to Riverview and says she’d have to plan out trips every couple of weeks rather than being able to drive down the road and pick up groceries as needed.
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For Stafford, he’s spent most of his life in the grocery business, and closing doors is a heartbreak he hopes to avoid.
“(The store) kind of brought the community together, kind of a meeting place,” says Stafford. “People hadn’t seen one another in years before they rendezvous here for their groceries.”
Across the street, a bank closed recently, which the mayor says was a significant blow.
He’s also hoping a solution can be found to keep the grocery store — an independent store within the division of Loblaws — open.
“It’s a real concern for us,” says Snider.
“It makes our challenge of trying to promote and develop our area much more difficult if we don’t have some of those necessities or some of those amenities in the community for people to take part in beyond the other leisure activities that we’re trying to promote.”
The 14 employees of the store would be also forced to look elsewhere for work if a solution isn’t found.
“That (would) leave me without a job,” says Roseanne Arbeau, who has been an employee since the store opened in 2012. “I’ll also have to buy everything in town, which I like to buy a lot of my stuff here. It’s convenient, you can leave the store and buy some groceries and head for home.”
Stafford says there’s been some interest, but remains hopeful an owner or partnership can be found by October.
“I’m really thankful for the chance I’ve been given here with health issues and now health issues with my wife,” Stafford says. “Really supportive people, down-home, friendly people. You won’t find any better in small (villages).”