Small Okanagan community recently left without a grocer is starting to feel the pinch of economic swings | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Small Okanagan community recently left without a grocer is starting to feel the pinch of economic swings

No one has yet come forward to reopen a grocery store in Okanagan Falls following the closure of the community's IGA Marketplace in September last year, but regional district Area D Director Ron Obirek believes it's a good business opportunity for someone.
January 28, 2020 - 12:00 PM

Okanagan Falls has been without a grocery store for more than four months and there's no change in sight.

It's been a lot for some area families to bear with the closest grocer being 20 kilometres away.

“There are 4,000 people in the area who all have to eat. Other small communities in the area have viable grocery stores in them, and there’s no competitive reason why a grocery store shouldn’t thrive in Okanagan Falls,” Area D Director Ron Obirek said.

Obirek has spoken with the landlord, Locke Property Management, and IGA and they all want to see change.

"They are on the lease until December, 2020 and have said they are willing to work with anyone interested in taking over the store."

The landlord is interested in seeing the store occupied again and has been actively looking for grocers and he's had no luck so far.

Local residents have also been reaching out to try and recruit a grocery chain to the  community.

“I have heard of a grocer who is talking about setting up a delivery service to Okanagan Falls residents, but that is third hand information,” Obirek said.

He said the inconvenience is noticed with people having to drive to Penticton, around 20 kilometres away, for groceries.

“It has had a big impact on some people. I’ve heard of cases where people have had to relocate to Penticton because they couldn’t afford to shop for groceries in Penticton while living here,” Obirek said.

“That has a big impact, if only to a few people. A landlord loses a tenants, the community loses residents and then those people won’t be around for the next store that opens,” he said.

Obirek believes there is still a solid opportunity for a grocery store in the community. He believes the store failed due to its business practice of relying on the  summer tourist influx, too much.

The store, he said, suffered when the Okanagan Falls economy was suffered from poor tourism years in 2017 and 2018.

He says the store had been operating in the Falls since around the mid-1990s and followed the ebb and flow of the community through the opening and closing of several large business operations, including the shutdown of the local Weyerhaeuser mill in 2007.

Obirek said a change in the store from local to corporate management several years ago was the catalyst for the store’s failure.

“The corporate office out of Burnaby is run by people who don’t live here and don’t know us. They made a decision to hike prices to take advantage of the peak business months of the summer,” Obirek said.

Those high prices didn’t go unnoticed by local residents, and the store couldn’t survive the added burden of a couple of tough back to back summers.

Obirek points to the continued success of Penticton's IGA as proof such stores can survive in an environment dominated by big box superstores.

— This story was originally published at 6 a.m. Jan. 27, 2020.

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