IGA = It’s Gone Away

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.

It even made the front page but with little comment.

It even made the front page but with little comment.

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.


About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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34 Responses to IGA = It’s Gone Away

  1. pinklightsabre says:

    It’s surprising how addicted we get to free things like that. Perhaps smart marketing or perhaps, not. Perhaps sentimentality and all the memories you have wrapped up in it too, because stores and places can be like that for neighbourhoods. I’ll pay more to go to the local grocery store in part because I’m comfortable and like the checkers there, and know that’s not uncommon. I’ll especially wait and take more time to get checked out by a person than scan my stuff also because I’m lazy, but because I like having an exchange too. We have a place called Costco that sells stuff discount, like real American-style, but their checkers aren’t paid to be nice — in fact they rebuke that, they’re like not nice — and it’s almost like going to a Punk show or something, I have to toughen myself for it and coach myself to work through it.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Sure, we have Costcos and the like. I avoid them as a rule. Our checkers say hi, sometimes by name, the bag boys carry out your groceries, chatting about the weather, and we tip them a buck or two bucks if it’s a big, big load. I learned Monday that Yvan, who should be retired, has been working at this store and its predecessors for 32 years, bringing people’s groceries out to their cars. Last year he chased me down in the store and scolded me because the bottle-return machine was working perfectly fine when I told him earlier it wasn’t. We didn’t talk for a while after that but I think we’re okay now.
      So forget the cheese samples. If they get rid of the bag boys, the town is toast.

  2. Having lived in a one grocery store town, I feel your pain. If the IGA keeps downsizing you can jump over to Subway for all your produce needs, and if you get really desperate take a backpack into the nearest public toilet and unroll the TP into your pack. It’s gems like this that got me through college.

  3. Our little town had our IGA replaced by Foodland many years ago….every person living here still calls it the IGA. I don’t like change either.

  4. Tish Farrell says:

    Market forces are cussed things, aren’t they. Stranded with no way to feed a ‘free-chocolate’ habit, that’s very sad.

  5. We have a Costco, Walmart, etc., but I really don’t like them. Too big and overwhelming and the vegetables? Well, they have probably been in a container for months. Whenever I’m in one of these warehouses I just want to leave. So yeah, the just-right store is just right.

    Sorry to hear that you’re going to be missing out on your chocolate. 😦

  6. candidkay says:

    You’ve reminded me of trips to my Nana’s cottage in Michigan, where she would shop at the IGA. I don’t think I’ve been in one since . . . and your description is right on! 🙂

  7. peachyteachy says:

    I grew up with the IGA and I am so sorry for your loss.

  8. Ned's Blog says:

    Our town has a population of a little less than 8,000 but it still feels like a small town. We lost our last locally-owned grocery store about six years ago. I still miss it.

  9. byebyebeer says:

    When we lived in the poconos, the closest grocery store was an IGA. I’d never heard of the chain before. This particular one was a tourist shop, overpriced and small. I don’t even think they carried cilantro. Never free anything, and definitely not chocolate. Even the part about free sponges sounded pretty sweet. Free stuff is hard to come back from. My condolences.

  10. sam perry says:

    Ross i agree 100 percent. Stanstead has changed over the last decade . Just look at the number of properties that are up for sale. Why i ask myself would anyone want to move there as an individual never mind a company. the staleness that you see as you travel the roads indicate years and years of town mismanagement. I have moved on now and do not regret that decision I do miss the people of Stanstead. I sincerely hope for future generation who choose to live in Stanstead that someone has the courage to change this dying retirement village and turn it into a vibrant community where its citizens are proud to live there

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Hi Sam. Nice to hear from you. I don’t think we can blame the town for everything; they are fighting economic and demographic forces beyond their control. People have to take responsibility also. I’m quite facetious in this piece, but it’s true that people do shop in the States and then complain when a business closes. We can’t have it both ways.
      Take care.

  11. The wheel turns, my friend. You should see what’s happened to my beloved Cleveland. It’s an atrocity. But one thing is certain: it ain’t ever going to stop. Have you thought of relocating to a more metropolitan area? More cilantro options in exchange for traffic chaos.

  12. Orange is the new White and Gold says:

    While I too am saddened about the loss of free chocolate and coffee mugs, I then think of the businesses that the IGA put down when it opened and the tears dry up. Now my face is all crusty. Thanks IGA.

  13. Trent Lewin says:

    I feel for you. I live in a land of Zehrs and Sobeys on every block, and they never ever give me anything for free, let alone chocolate (although I would be happy with free cilantro/coriander or cumin any day). I didn’t actually know there were still IGA’s out there, I thought they’d gone away long ago… I hear grocery stor’ing is a cutthroat business, you’d think selling something as essential as food might actually come with decent returns for someone. I try to buy directly from farmers. They never give anything for free either.

  14. markbialczak says:

    You had free for a lot longer than lots of folks, Ross. Still it must hurt when it goes. Here in Syracuse, any of the chains will gladly take our money and give us the groceries we just purchased with it. MDW Karen and I pick the smaller of the stores because, as you say, we like to know where to find our favorite stuff.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      What I worry about is that decline is self-perpetuating. Not enough people shopped there so they demote the store, which means fewer people are going to shop there still because there’s less selection, and then…

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