Having moved to Vernon with her family from Revelstoke in the 1960s, Elaine Methot (née Kimball) remembers going grocery shopping with her folks every Saturday to the downtown Safeway at the west end of Main Street (30th Avenue).
Her brother would be hanging off the front of the cart. Her sister would be walking alongside her, her mom and even her dad joined the Saturday outing. Sometimes the kids would get nickels and dimes to go ride the mechanical horse outside the main entrance.
When she was in high school, Methot and friends would be at the place to be Friday and Saturday nights, the Safeway parking lot, pulling mainers (driving up and down 30th Avenue) and meeting in the lot for life’s discussions.
She moved away to Lake Country and Kelowna, working 30-plus years for the B.C. government, and returned to Vernon in 2016, where she not only resumed grocery shopping at the downtown Safeway, but ended up joining the store in the deli department.
The store first opened in 1965 and is set to close Nov. 23 for renovations and rebranding before its spring 2020 re-opening as FreshCo, and Methot was one of many employees on-hand Thursday between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. to say thanks to staff and customers with a free lunch of hamburgers and hot dogs, prepared by the Vernon Lions Club, and two celebratory vanilla and chocolate cakes.
“A friend who worked here said they were short-staffed so I applied,” Methot said. “It’s been a fabulous two years. I really enjoy it. This store is a real meeting place for the seniors. Some come in two-to-three times a day, they have their breakfast and lunch here.”
Madeleine Pelletier is one of Safeway’s head honchos. It says so on her staff button.
Even Pelletier isn’t sure what that title means, but she runs with it as she has since she joined Safeway on Sept. 29, 1980, three months after graduating from Vernon Senior Secondary School and a summer of travelling through California and Mexico. She began as a cashier back when Safeway had a store in the Village Green Centre.
“Tom Gordon (store assistant manager) came into Hunter’s Store, where I was working, regularly for his cigarettes and he kept asking me to come see him about a job,” said Pelletier, who worked at Hunter’s for two years. “My wage basically tripled from $3 an hour to about $10 or $12 an hour.”
She moved to the downtown Safeway “20-to-25 years ago,” and is the longest serving employee.
“I have enjoyed all my customers. Safeway was a fabulous company to work for. The people have been great, the wages, the benefits, everything,” said Pelletier, who will remain with Safeway after the downtown store closes when the store moves to the Vernon Square facility. “And the work family is fabulous.”
Downtown store manager Sean Watson – when not serenading a reporter over the store’s loudspeakers with his Vegas-style rendition of Happy Birthday – said Thursday’s lunch was a small way to say thanks to the store’s loyal customers and it’s “amazing” employees.
“These employees are top-notch,” said Watson, who has worked in Vernon for the past two of his 25 years with Safeway. “I’ve worked in very few stores that have employees like the ones we have at this one. The way that they care about their community, the way they show their appreciation to the community each and every day is truly amazing.”