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Buy-Low customers bid adieu to a community favourite

With perishables all but gone – and only a dwindling supply of packaged goods left in refrigerators and on shelves and counters – Buy-Low Foods staff said goodbye to a small but steady stream of regulars last Saturday.

The grocery store – a fixture at White Rock’s Hillcrest Mall for 33 years – was readying to close its doors for the last time due to the impending redevelopment of the site for the second phase of Bosa’s Miramar Village. When merchants were given six month’s notice to vacate this May, Buy-Low senior management said there were no plans to open a new Semiahmoo Peninsula location.

Buy-Low’s last day was a sad one for a fiercely loyal clientele, including many seniors who appreciated the closeness and convenience of the store to their homes, and shoppers who appreciated the store’s competitive pricing and willingness to stock uncommon items including British and European candies and cakes and other delicacies.

But you couldn’t tell it by the friendly smiles and conversation between manager Mike Brown and his staff and the customers who dropped in one last time to pick through closing sale items and stock up on a few necessities.

Customer Diana Rosetta said she was drawn to the store by the British goodies as soon as she moved here from the Okanagan five years ago “because I was raised in England.”

She was seeking a special souvenir of the store – one of the Union Jack flags that decorated the refrigerator stocking British pies and pastries – and had actually called several days before to speak to Brown about it.

When she introduced herself to Brown, he plucked a flag from the display and handed it to her with a simple “there you go.”

“I’m still in awe that he’d take time to do that, with all the other things he had to deal with,” she said. “There’s something about a store where people are caring and helpful – you don’t get that all the time in this culture.”

Gene Guiricich, a White Rock resident for 39 years, said he’d been coming to the store since it opened its doors and enjoyed shopping in a place where he was on a first-names basis with Brown and the rest of the staff.

He noted the store’s generosity in contributing to local causes and charities.

“Anytime the schools needed anything for fundraising or anything like that they were always there,” he said.

“It was the small neighbourhood feeling, and they’d bring in so much stuff and stock it if people requested it.”

White Rock folk singer Willie Mackenzie said it was more than a store – it was a meeting place where shoppers could be sure of running into neighbours.

“It’s such a loss to the community. What are we going to do now?”

Barbara Blakely said that, as a person with a disability, she found the size of the store easier to get around than some of the other larger groceries.

“They had great prices, too, and great manager’s specials.

Brown said that around half of his staff will be moving to other Buy-Low stores, while the others have found other employment.

“Everybody has a job,” he said.

He added that he was pleased that the store had provided a comfortable place not only for people to shop, but to meet and converse with their neighbours.

“It’s all about the people – that’s what’s really important,” he said.

Alex Browne

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