Family business fades into history

After 37 years in the business, the Palamar brothers are getting out of groceries. Super Valu, in the Yukon Mall, is planning to close on February 14th. "Happy Valentine's," said cashier Heather Morrison, who's been...

After 37 years in the business, the Palamar brothers are getting out of groceries.

Super Valu, in the Yukon Mall, is planning to close on February 14th.

“Happy Valentine’s,” said cashier Heather Morrison, who’s been at the store for 18 months.

“Maybe they’ll put in a bowling alley,” said a customer.

Walking up an aisle flanked by empty Minute Maid boxes, Mike Palamar took stock of his floundering business.

“There’s a point you reach where you know it’s not feasible to keep operating anymore,” he said.

“Every year the sales kept dropping a little bit—it’s supposed to be going the other way.”

On Wednesday, everything in the store was 10 per cent off.

“That’s a good start in the grocery business,” said Palamar, who expects the discount to grow as the closing date approaches.

“In two-and-a-half weeks I hope it is mostly empty,” he said.

Already, shelves that should be bursting with products are sporting gaps like missing teeth.

When Palamar’s dad, Don, entered the grocery business in 1970, there was one store downtown—where Extra Foods sits today.

Called Super Valu, the store was owned by Loblaws. Don was the manager.

Two years later, Don and his partner Bob Evans took a chance and decided to open their own store, taking over Taylor and Drury in Horwood’s Mall.

They called it Food Fair.

Yukoners could come in, buy a case of canned tomatoes and some sacks of flour, then head next door for shotgun shells.

“We used to be able to put things on sale by the case lot,” said Mike. “And it was mind-boggling how much we’d sell.

“People used to stock up, but now people shop every two days.”

Mike was 13 when he started packing bags, stocking shelves and collecting carts.

Now, 32 years later, he’s still doing it.

In 1985, Mike and his brother Jim bought out Evans’ share of the business.

“We operated the store as a family until dad retired three or four years ago,” he said.

The mom-and-pop business flourished, and in 1991, Food Fair moved to its Yukon Mall local. The Palamars sub-leased the space from Loblaws.

It wasn’t until Wal-Mart set up shop on the outskirts of town that things took a turn for the worse.

“First they let in Wal-Mart, and then (the Real Canadian) Superstore,” said Mike.

“That’s when business started declining.

“You could throw a Wal-Mart on the moon, and they’d throw a Superstore across the street.”

Customers began to disappear.

“We lost them to both stores,” said Mike.

“Three stores downtown within two minutes of each other—that’s too much for an independent.”

Then, Mike heard a rumour from a Loblaws executive that Extra Foods was closing. Loblaws owns both Extra Foods and Superstore.

“I was led to believe they were closing,” he said.

That’s when Mike renamed his store Super Valu, a Loblaws franchise.

“We thought they’d support us and we’d support them,” he said.

The changed allowed him to access products controlled by the corporation, like President’s Choice and No Name.

“We used to get these products, but then (Loblaws) took them away because we were not affiliated—I was not flying their name,” he said.

But Extra Foods didn’t close.

Instead, a corporate reshuffle saw more money pouring into the yellow store.

“Once I knew they weren’t closing, the writing was on the wall,” said Mike.

Because Loblaws corporation owns Extra Foods and Superstore, it can afford the competition.

“They have deep pockets,” said Mike.

“But when you’re an independent, you have to worry about making payroll.”

In its prime, Food Fair employed more than 70 staff. Now, Mike’s payroll is at 25.

The staff, many who’ve been with the store for years, were surprised to learn it was closing.

“We thought Loblaws might buy it out and run it as a corporate Super Valu,” said Mike.

But when he didn’t get a definitive answer, he opted to shut down the store.

Morrison doesn’t have another job lined up yet.

“But I’ll find something,” she said, bagging a four-litre jug of milk.

Mike is going to miss his staff and customers.

Although the regulars have dwindled over the years, he still has customers who’ve been faithful for more than three decades.

“I had one lady who said she was there the first day we opened as Food Fair and she will be there the last day we close,” said Mike.

Some regulars come for the store’s specialty products, like the ample assortment of wheat-free flours by Bob’s Red Mill.

“I tried to buy from lots of different companies to keep my business different,” he said.

“But I dealt with a lot more companies as Food Fair than I did after becoming Super Valu.”

Most of the store’s specialty products are available at Riverside, one of the other mom-and-pop businesses holding out in town.

“It’s been there as long as I can remember,” said Mike.

“As a kid I used to leave the pool, where the High Country Inn is now, and buy candy on the way home.”

The Super A stores are also independently owned, he said.

“But they’re in their own suburbs, like Porter Creek and Riverdale, in convenient locations.” They don’t have big box stores less than five minutes away.

Extra Foods manager Bill Dunlop was not able to talk about his store.

He gave the News a Toronto Loblaws’ phone number.

The corporation did not respond by press time.

“Once a Wal-Mart shows up…” said Mike.

“I try not to shop there,” he added.

Mike hasn’t had a decent holiday in years, ever since the business started struggling.

“I’m going to relax, regroup, and the find something else to do,” he said.

Groceries have been Mike’s life.

“I’ve never done anything else,” said the 45-year-old.

“I’ve never filled out a resume.

“It’s a new beginning.

“I’m a little nervous and excited.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at

gkeevil@yukon-news.com

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