You don’t understand. This is about more than my hometown‘s only grocery store changing ownership. It’s about more than the parent company Sobeys demoting our local IGA down to a second-tier Marché Tradition because there aren’t enough clients to support the IGA brand. It’s about more than the fact that too many people on this side of the border shop in the United States. It’s not that.
It’s not even about how it was such a big deal 11 years ago when the IGA opened. Just a couple of years prior, the 2001 Canadian census had revealed that, for the first time, Stanstead’s population had dipped below 3000. I remember the mayor at the time asserting that the figures were wrong, implying that you could not rely on the national census, and this was long before Stephen Harper got his hands on it.
And who can blame her for being in denial. No one likes to see his or her town decline, but there it was: 2,995 people in 2001; 2,959 in 2006; 2,857 in 2011, and yet I still have a hard time finding a parking spot at the post office.
So when this shiny new IGA opened in 2004 with its wide aisles and exotic fruits and horse meat! Remember the horse meat? In Stanstead! There was a ray of retail possibility. There was hope. There was cilantro.
But this is about more than how the removal of the giant “IGA” letters from the building Monday is symbolic of a town that just can’t get a break. It’s about more than the way that, like the mayor years ago, everyone seems to be in denial about what this means for the viability of our community and the availability of cumin.
It’s not about that. Here’s what it’s about:
For several years, our IGA has been giving away weekly freebies to shoppers who purchase $70 or more worth of groceries. I think I understand the strategy behind this. Most IGAs are located in larger markets with multiple grocery chains. Savvy shoppers pick up the specials at this store, then hop over to a competitor for the specials there. Hop and shop, as it were. The IGA giveaways were designed to lure customers into the store and encourage them to spend more than they otherwise might.
But there is only the one grocery store in Stanstead. So unless you’re doing your shopping in nearby Magog or (for shame!) in the United States, you picked up your full load at the IGA. For a family like ours that never stops being hungry, that’s a lot of trips to the IGA in a week. That’s a lot of free stuff.
We got sauces and noodles, TP and yogurts, doughnuts and crackers. We got storage containers and soups. We got gas discounts we couldn’t redeem at either of Stanstead’s two gas stations (nor in the United States where everyone gets their gas anyway, which doesn’t bode well for Stanstead’s two gas stations).
We got enough cutlery, mugs and wine glasses to outfit one-and-a-half children’s apartments.
We got bottles of eco-friendly glass cleaner, bathroom cleaner, wood cleaner and disinfectant that still fill the cupboard under the sink three years later because we’d rather be shopping and eating than wiping down surfaces.
We got boxed cream sauces and tubbed rosé sauces, “healthy” cookies and suspect cheese spreads, all of which felt like either test products or items that didn’t sell elsewhere so someone said, “Ship ‘em to Stanstead.”
But we took them, happily, because they were free. And if people didn’t want them, well, that’s what the food-donation box is for.
Sometimes, the giveaway was chocolate, and if we spent over $140, which was often, the cashier would ask, “Would you like dark chocolate or milk chocolate?” and we would answer, “Yes.” Sometimes they’d run out of the free sponge and the cashier would say, “We’ve run out of free sponges. Would you like chocolate instead?” and we would answer, “Yes.”
But Monday, under the new banner, when I forked over my 80 bucks, all the cashier offered me was my change.
So you see? Do you understand now? This is what it’s about: How am I going to get my free chocolate?
I realize it’s not the end of the world for my one-grocery town. We do have the new Subway (which replaced the old Subway). But I swear, if they get rid of the little cheese-on-toothpick samples, we’re moving.