Sobeys closing in three months

Tyler Clarke
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Prince Albert’s Sobeys grocery store is set to close in September, with its 70-plus employees handed pink slips on Wednesday. 

A significant blow to the local economy -- and more importantly, the families of those affected -- Prince Albert’s Sobeys grocery store will mark its 13th year by closing.


The store’s 70 union members were given pink slips on Wednesday morning, union leader Norm Neault said, noting that there are a few out-of-scope employees on top of that.

An additional 60 to 65 jobs will be lost in Moose Jaw, whose store is also slated for closure.

“It’s not good news at all, and all I can say is my deepest regrets to our members and their families over this issue,” the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1400 president said.

“It’s amazing, in a province like Saskatchewan, where we’re supposed to be in a booming economy and … we’re faced with so many closures, so many issues where people are having a tough go of it. It just doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Although Prince Albert’s job listings indicate that the 70 employees should have little trouble finding jobs come September, Neault notes that it’ll be difficult finding jobs at the unionized rate they were receiving at Sobeys.

Paid between about $11 and $20 per hour, they face a sea of near minimum-wage jobs in Prince Albert’s retail industry.

On top of that, Prince Albert and District Chamber of Commerce CEO Merle Lacert notes that, even with high job availability, it’ll be difficult for the market to absorb 70 people at once.

The union has ensured employees receive severance pay, Neault said -- something intended to tide employees over until they find alternate employment.

Then, there’s employment insurance -- a less-than desirable circumstance to be in, he noted.

“It’s not meant to be lucrative, but it’s meant for a transition, and it’s barely doing that,” he said.

“All I can say is my deepest regrets to our members and their families over this issue, but unfortunately it’s something out of our hands and we’ll do the best we can to help them in this transition.”


Reasons for closure

"Really, it's part of our regular business process … on a regular basis, we evaluate our operations, store network and performance and determine if we're at where we need to be," said Keri Scobie, a spokesperson for the company.

"When we looked across the network, these stores were under-performing … the decision was made to close them."

The corporate machine led to recent Sobeys closures, Neault concluded.

Last year, Sobeys Inc. purchased Safeway Inc. in a $5.8-billion deal.

The Sobeys in Yorkton closed a few months ago, leaving about 80 people out of work.

With this week’s announcement that the Moose Jaw and Prince Albert stores will also close this year, the corporate purchase has cost Saskatchewan about 200 jobs.

“They’ve been coming across with a pretty big scythe, so to speak,” Neault said.

“I guess the good news about Sobeys buying Safeway isn’t very good news for the employees of Sobeys.

It’s not good news at all, and all I can say is my deepest regrets to our members and their families over this issue. Norm Neault

“You hear about these large multinationals buying these acquisitions, and you always hope that something good comes out of it, but I haven’t seen a lot of good coming out of this particular acquisitions.

National media is reporting that the closure of 50 supermarkets, including Prince Albert’s, is a cost-cutting measure related to the takeover of Safeway Canada.


Local economy will prevail

From a grocery market perspective, Prince Albert will pass through the closure of Sobeys relatively unscathed.

With several other grocery stores in Prince Albert, there is plenty of room for Sobeys’ share of the market to reallocate, Lacert said.

On top of that, Lacert notes some recent expansions to the Prince Albert grocery market, including the brand new Co-op Marketplace in Cornerstone, and Wal-Mart’s recent expansion into groceries.

If there’s a silver lining to Sobeys’ closure, it’s that it will help these centres grow a customer base into their recent expansions, if they haven’t already, Lacert said.

Icing on the cake would be if this growth resulted in their hiring of laid-off Sobeys employees.

Lacert said that although the loss of 70 jobs comes as a blow, Prince Albert still appears to be on the upswing, overall.

Since last year’s closure of the Prince Albert Zellers, its void at Gateway Mall has already become half re-filled, Mayor Greg Dionne said, noting that renovations are ongoing to ensure the balance of the space is filled in the near future.

“We just continue on,” Dionne said. “It’s a bit of a setback for my economic development plan, because we were gaining in the job market, and the 70, now, will set us back.”


Community stewardship

Over the past decade, countless Prince Albert residents have benefited from Sobeys’ charity.

For the past decade, Sobeys has contributed to a Christmas hamper program, headed by local community steward Jerry Jarvis.

“I feel that Sobeys management and staff here in P.A. have been very supportive within the community,” Jarvis said.

“They’ve been awesome. They’ve been very supportive in donating money -- thousands of dollars -- as well as gifts.”

In addition to that, Jarvis credits Sobeys staff -- most notably general manager Kurt Harriman -- with lending volunteer time toward the annual effort, as well.

When it comes to community stewardship, Jarvis concluded, “Sobeys is going to be hard to beat.”


With files from Justin Crann, Moose Jaw Times Herald

Organizations: Sobeys Inc., Prince Albert, Safeway Canada United Food Co-op Marketplace Wal-Mart Daily Herald

Geographic location: Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Yorkton P.A.

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