Co-op grocery store coming to Gold River

Gold River, BC

It’s been five years since Super Valu, Gold River’s only grocery store, closed for good, leaving the village of about 1,200 people nowhere local to purchase fresh meats and produce. But that is about to change as villagers have banded together to bring a Co-op grocery store to town in 2022.

When the Super Valu closed Nov. 12, 2016, other small businesses began bringing in limited amounts of dry goods, eggs and dairy to fill the gaps, but locals still have to take the 90-kilometre, one hour drive to Campbell River for groceries. The distance is twice as far for those living in Tahsis.

For Mowachaht/Muchalaht elder Ray Williams, 80, who lives in Yuquot, the commute, which includes a long boat ride, can take a full day. Locals are excited about the prospect of having their own grocery store again.

Sheri Sue Johnston and her husband John moved to Gold River three years ago, when they wondered why the little town had everything but a grocery store.

“The last grocery store was owned by a private company and when the logging industry crashed in the ‘90s the population here decreased, so they left,” said Sheri.

But now there is an influx of families moving in thanks to new and/or expanded businesses in Gold River. The Johnston’s say that there is a company that produces steel products, like temporary bridge spans, along with the recent expansion of a seafood company.

“It’s been stagnant here for so long and we want to regenerate this town to what it used to be,” said Sheri, adding that she doesn’t like to travel the windy, mountainous highway to Campbell River in the winter if she doesn’t have to.

The Johnstons said they got together with like-minded people and began planning for food security. They decided to go with a Co-op grocery store because it is owned and directed by its members. But that meant selling enough memberships to launch a store.

After several meetings the group that pushed for the Co-op received incorporation papers in August 2021. Their next step was to sell 100 lifetime memberships at a one-time cost of $300 each. Johnston admits that there are some locals that cannot afford the fee but, she says, the door is always open to purchase a membership. There is no time-limit.

What does a membership get you?

“Discounts for food in the store and votes on how the store is run,” said Johnston. “This is not just about money but food security.”

People get a say and it’s very democratic, she noted.

Johnston launched a Facebook page for the Co-op, inviting people to buy memberships. On Nov. 30 residents were invited to the community hall, where they received updated information on the Co-op and learned that they met their goal of selling 100 memberships.

“The $30,000 raised from membership sales goes to collateral for the bank that will loan us the money to launch the Co-op,” said Johnston.

In addition, private investors are offering to invest funds to make the store a success.

The newly formed Co-op Board of Directors will sign the lease for a building on January, 1, 2022. The new store will not be in the former Super Valu building, but they’re starting out small in a plaza located on Nimpkish Avenue.

“Our goal is to work with the people and other businesses, not to compete,” said Sheri.

The new Co-op will not only serve the residents of Gold River, but also those in Tsaxana, Tahsis, Yuquot and other outlying communities. Hiring will soon begin for a general manager, cashiers, and other store staff.

Sheri Johnston predicts that the new Gold River Co-op grocery store will officially open toward the end of January 2022.

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