Kelowna's 35-year-old Pioneer Country Market says goodbye - InfoNews

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Kelowna's 35-year-old Pioneer Country Market says goodbye

The doors of Pioneer Country Market off Benvoulin Road in Kelowna have closed permanently after 45 years.
April 02, 2018 - 1:30 PM

KELOWNA – After three and a half decades of being run by one of Kelowna’s first families, the Pioneer Country Market has closed.

Velma Sperling and her husband Bert opened the Market next to Father Pandosy Mission on Benvoulin Road in the 1980s. Velma is the granddaughter of Giovanni Casorzo (later John Casorso), who emigrated from Italy in the 1860s.

She was born during the Great Depression in 1929 and remembers riding down unpaved roads on the handlebars of Bert’s bicycle when they were still dating. Sometimes they would make their own ice cream and have a picnic, or ride downtown for a 10-cent matinee at the Paramount Theatre.  

Main Street was comprised mostly of small, individually owned businesses at that time. Many would close shop when the fish were biting.  

Bert and Velma married and moved to Casorso Road where they had five daughters and a son. Velma loved to cook and bake, and they would often have boarders.

“I always had the house full and was cooking for 20 people,” she says. “When I grew up there was no refrigerator, so you had to be canning or salting. It was surviving.”

During the 1980s her children started going to college and moving away so she decided to start a business selling the canned and baked goods she had mastered over the years.

“I didn’t want to be sitting around at home,” she says. “The property belonged to my dad I wanted something to do. The kids were growing up.”

The Pioneer Country Market in the summer of 1987.
The Pioneer Country Market in the summer of 1987.
Image Credit: Submitted

She named her store Pioneer Country Market and while everything around changed over the last 35 years, it stayed largely the same. Fresh pies, produce, old world candies and other treats are crowded by treasures collected over the years and tended by staff who doubled as local historians. 

“The name seemed to suit it,” she says. “It was pioneer property. Pioneer people.”

Velma curated an extensive collection of antiques upstairs, many belonged to either herself or her family. 

“Mill separators, irons that you put on the stove. I used a lot of them,” she says. “We had a lot of things that nobody else had.”

Velma says she felt so guilty for abandoning her loyal customers – some she’s known their whole lives – that she avoided the market during the final days last week.

“It was hard,” she says. “Keeping the market open was basically a labour of love and… I’ll miss the people the most. There are so many wonderful people out there and we had great staff.

“We’re old fashioned, and people like that, but times change.”

Do you have a favourite memory of the Pioneer Market? Leave it in the comments section below. 

To contact a reporter for this story, email Adam Proskiw or call 250-718-0428 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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