Leigh Follestad wants to let people know that downtown isn’t completely cut off from groceries.
Follestad’s SmartShopper store in the 200 block of Main Street already stocks a range of groceries, along with a lot of other items, supplying the businesses and residents of the area.
“I always tell people it is the only place in Penticton you can go to get a coffee and a hammer at 6 a.m. in the morning,” said Follestad.
But that said, he’s not adverse to expanding his offerings, especially if he can expand into the vacant store next door. That would expand his square footage from 5,000 square feet to 7,500, big enough for his landlord to cash in on the Economic Investment Zone incentive the City of Penticton is offering for the first person to bring a grocery store to downtown.
“In essence, I am already doing that,” said Follestad, who began offering groceries when he took over the SmartShopper two years ago.
“I saw the opportunity for the grocery concept, so I joined Associated Grocers. That gives me access to the full grocery line, including the Western family value line, We simply expanded as people came in and said ‘this is great, can you get more of this?’”
So the city’s offer to encourage a larger grocery store seemed ideal.
“We need 7,000 square feet to take advantage of the tax incentives. So we have my store, which is 5,000 square feet and the Tim Horton’s, which has been empty over a year, is 2,500 square feet,” said Follestad, noting that both shops are owned by the same landlord, who is working with Tim Horton’s, to see if they are willing to give up the lease.
“It would allow me to grow. We provide everything now. It’s basically a one stop shop for everything, for the businesses and the people who live down here, except there is a couple of key items I need to grow,” said Follestad.
More room would allow him to add items like fresh meat — SmartShopper already has a frozen selection — and expand his small produce section, which Follestad said is already popular.
“We do okay with what I’ve got, and people know we get our produce in on Wednesdays. That is usually when they all show up and buy all the fresh stuff,” said Follestad. “The grocery offering doesn’t need to expand a lot, because I have everything right now but fresh meat is another area that is difficult for me to do. I want to be able to offer fresh ground beef and your various cuts.”
Follestad said a small grocery store like his would be the ideal solution for downtown.
“There is a reason why the big guys left. You are never going to be a destination grocery store for people who live at the south end of town, but I think it would serve the downtown community better than we are already,” he said. “Most of the clientele in this area are walking. Anywhere from 600 to 1,000 people a day come through the door.
Follestad calls expanding his store a “no-brainer,” but it’s now a waiting game to see if his landlord can come to an arrangement with the owners of the Tim Horton’s lease.
“I know that he has had conversations with the city about the potential, but Tim Horton’s has the lease on that space. They are still paying their lease and they have another seven years to run,” said Follestad.
“We’re kind of sitting in limbo, I am all over the opportunity if it becomes available.
If someone else was to take the city up on that offer to build a grocery store downtown, I can’t see it being feasible for someone to go and spent that money to put a building up.”