The last order through the last open till – Till 5 – at the downtown Canada Safeway in Vernon belongs to Dennis McLeod, a frugal Scottish-Canadian who loved the deals he scored.
One bag of handpicked peppers from the produce section: $1; one bag of handpicked bananas: $1; two 255 gram tubs of strawberry style cream cheese, at 50 cents each: $1.
Total bill: $3.
“Based on the costs, I’d say being the last customer is superb,” said McLeod who, at 6:05 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019, was the last official customer of Vernon’s downtown Safeway, which is shutting down after 54 years of service to rebrand in the spring of 2020 as FreshCo, a division of the parent Sobey’s company.
“The honest truth is I’m sad to see this place shut down,” said McLeod, describing himself as a semi-regular customer. “I feel bad for the older people. This was a shopping source for them in their neighbourhood. A lot of them could just walk here. They depend on this store for their supplies.”
McLeod edged out Starbucks barista Robyn Miller for the honour of last customer. Miller, a student at UBC Okanagan, put through a 100-gram bag of dark chocolate enrobed mandarins and a four-pack of Dentyne Ice gum, to clerk Sean Reid.
“I loved working in this store,” said Miller who spent two years working at the Starbucks inside Safeway, and worked every Christmas holiday season. “It feels like everyone is family.”
Reid is also going down in history as the last official working employee at the downtown Safeway, putting orders through and bagging them until McLeod went through at 6:05. He’s also a UBCO student who has worked at Safeway part-time and full-time for about a year.
“It feels a little sad,” said Reid of the impending store closure. He plans to focus on school and look for work in January. “I’m hopeful for the future.”
Close to 75 former and current employees gathered for 6 p.m. – the store’s official closing time Saturday – to say their goodbyes or share hugs, tears and laughter. One woman was handing out individual carnations to employees and customers as a thank-you.
Champagne corks could be heard popping and all gathered near customer service to hear Sean Watson give one last address to staff, calling them all “amazing.”
It’s estimated close to 100 million customers were served at the downtown 30th Avenue location since it opened in 1965.
FreshCo, said store first assistant manager Darren Bognar,”is kind of a less expensive banner that’s going to be a great thing for this area,” but I believe that with that some people feel that some things will be lost.”
That includes no sitting area for customers to enjoy coffee or a meal.
Some but not all of the employees will be transferring to Safeway’s Vernon Square location.
A temporary pharmacy trailer has been set up on the south wall of the downtown Safeway and will continue to provide services now that the store is closed.