Sign of the Times

Pipestone Flyer

Sobeys at 4703 – 50 Street home of new Co-op grocery store


    Mr. Allan Halter, Manager of Wetaskiwin Co-op, will be getting another set of keys on April 22nd, 2014 when the former Sobeys store at 4703 – 50 Street becomes the new Co-op grocery store. Halter is looking forward to this new challenge. After 5 years of managing and growing the Wetaskiwin Co-op, he can now put his 25 years of experience in the food retail business into good use to launch the new store. 

    In the original deal with Safeway announced last June, 2013, Nova Scotia-based Sobeys purchased 213 stores.  Sobeys was required to sell 23 stores as part of an agreement with the Competition Bureau in connection with its $5.8 billion purchase of Canada Safeway. Federated Co-operatives Limited (FCL), on behalf of the Co-operative Retailing System (CRS), has entered into an agreement to purchase 14 food stores from Sobey’s Inc.  Sobeys at 4703 – 50 Street in Wetaskiwin will become Wetaskiwin Co-op and Sobeys at 5421 – 50 Street in Leduc will become Leduc Co-op. Wetaskiwin Co-op will be taking over about $700K in inventory from Sobeys. 

    Halter explains how 2 key concerns were put to rest quickly. “Sobeys staff will not be required to apply for a job with the new Wetaskiwin Co-op grocery store. We gave all Sobeys employees an offer-of- employment so they don’t have to compete for jobs or seniority.”

    The second concern expressed by the Board with the pending purchase was would it impact equity payments made to members. “The deal we have made ensures there will be no impact on equity payments.”  

    Although the Co-op looks like any other local business the stores are owned by Co-op members. Savings generated by the Co-op are returned to member-owners, proportionate to the amount purchased from the Co-op during the year. Wetaskiwin Co-op returned more than $2.3 Million dollars to members in cash in 2013 and in the last five years the Wetaskiwin Co-op has returned $5 Million in cash to its members. A $10.00 lifetime membership fee allows members to share in ownership and the disposition of surpluses from the sale of goods and services.

    The transition following the change in ownership on April 22nd is expected to have minimal impact on operations.  “We plan to hit the ground running when April 22nd happens. If we are down a day that would be max. That is our initial goal. There will be some disruption to customers as systems change (check out equipment) but it will be short term pain for long term gain. We have looked at all our exterior and interior signs and other cosmetic changes and believe that we can do most of that work at night.”


The Co-op way back when

    The first settlers to the Wetaskiwin region envisioned a store that they could rely on for their every need.  At that time they needed commodities like salt, flour, sugar, apples, feed, seed grain, and binder twine.  In the beginning, the bulk of the business was conducted on a railway spur at the box car door.  Local members were notified that their supplies had arrived and farmers would call at the box car to pick up their orders and sometimes their neighbours' orders as well.

Co-op serves rural and urban customers

    The new facilities and the many achievements of the Wetaskiwin Co-op would be an impressive awe-inspiring site for the old-timers to see. Since the purposeful beginning in 1917 the Wetaskiwin Co-op has evolved and now offers over 50,000 items and approximately $2B in inventory. Rural and urban customers alike, have access to the home centre, a huge building supplies facility, garden centre, bulk petroleum operations, hardware, tools, gifts, clothing, and flooring…. and now groceries in the former Sobeys building. 

        Halter is optimistic about the new grocery store. “It’s another brand of food chain. It will bring new brands of product, a new brand of service and generally a new level of value to the community. We will carry a very high standard in cleanliness, service and product quality.  We pride ourselves on staff training and just listening to people. There is not a great profit margin in food retail so really these are the features we can be competitive in.” 

    As peoples' needs changed over the years, so has the Co-op.