When Doreen Weir first came to Vernon it didn’t take her long to find her favourite place for coffee – a place she’s visited faithfully for the past 17 years.
The Starbucks sitting area inside the downtown Safeway is little more than a nook beside the grocery store’s entrance, but it’s been a place for Weir to sit with friends and make new ones on a daily basis.
At 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 23, the Safeway will close its doors for the last time. Weir sits with her coffee in front of a portrait of herself that was plastered to the window many years ago. Above her image is the nickname she’s earned throughout her years of patronage, which tells you all you need to know about her connection to the store. It reads ‘Doreen the Queen.’
“I’m kind of sad because I had a lot of people come to have coffee with me here,” said Weir. People have been coming in steadily on the store’s last day. Some of them may have needed groceries, though the shelves are almost completely barren. Others may have just wanted to chat with Weir in her dedicated corner for one last time.
“People come up and say hi and they come sit with me and they give me a big hug, and they say they’re all going to miss me.”
Weir lives just around the corner from the Safeway in an area that’s home to many seniors, who will soon need to travel further to get groceries.
A few wrapped flowers sit on the table in front of Weir, given to her by friends who know how much the store meant to her. The woman who works at the flower shop came by with a flower in hand and thanked her for shopping at the store. A few days ago another woman came by and gave her a pair of gloves, a scarf and a toque.
Weir will have to find a new place for coffee in downtown Vernon, but she’s glad she won’t have to do so alone.
“I’m going to miss all the workers (but) I got all their phone numbers and I gave them my phone number and they’re going to keep in touch and we’ll all go out for coffee,” she said.
For Darren Bognar, the store’s first assistant, Doreen the Queen is one of many regular customers he’ll miss seeing every day.
“I’ve seen her since I started working here almost four years ago and she’s been someone who’s always been a staple in the store,” said Bognar.
“If you were to go into every grocery store around here, close your eyes and go in the front door and just use your ears, you could tell that this store is the Vernon downtown Safeway.”
Owned by Sobeys, the Safeway has been in operation for 54 years and will reopen as FreshCo – a lower-cost Sobeys grocery chain – in the spring.
“Fresh Co 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,” said Bognar.
Notably, the blueprints for the new FreshCo don’t include a sitting area for customers to stay for a coffee or a meal.
One thing that will be staying the same is the management, and Bognar thinks owner/operator Sean Watson will be able to carry over the aspects of the store that regular customers keep coming back for.
“Sean’s very customer service focused, so he’ll do whatever he can to incorporate what customers are looking for.”
Some but not all of the employees will be transferring to Safeway’s other location in Vernon.
A temporary pharmacy trailer has been set up on the south wall of the Safeway and will continue to provide services after the Safeway closes.