Overwaitea buys two New Westminster grocers, to open a third

The Safeway at Royal City Centre is amongst a group of 15 grocery stores sold to Overwaitea by Sobey
The Safeway at Royal City Centre is amongst a group of 15 grocery stores sold to Overwaitea by Sobey's. The store, along with the Thrifty's in Sapperton, are to be converted to Save-On grocery stores.

The Thrifty Foods in Sapperton and the Royal City Centre Safeway will soon be Save-On-Foods stores.

Overwaitea Foods announced Thursday it has purchased 15 locations in British Columbia and Alberta from Sobeys. Following the purchase of Canada Safeway by Sobeys last year, Canada's Competition Bureau ordered the company to divest itself of 23 stores including the Thriftys in Sapperton.

However, according to Overwaitea president Darrell Jones, Sobeys offered a Western Canadian package of 15, including seven they weren't ordered to sell, and weren't willing to discuss individual sales. It was take all 15 or none, said Jones.

One of those was the Safeway in Royal City Centre, which is about a block away from the Save-On Foods outlet in Westminster Centre. Jones said the company will wait until it takes the Royal City Centre store over sometime in the next six weeks before making any decisions on the future of either Uptown outlet.

"It's not completely uncommon for the food group [to have two stores so close together]. We'll take some time to evaluate the stores. We have to take over them first and then see how they shake out," said Jones. "Today we're excited to pick up the stores. Your city in New West is on the verge of a huge growth spurt, so we're excited about it."

Sobeys spokesman Andrew Walker said the package was developed to make it attractive to the purchaser and maximize the value for both the buyer and seller, but he wouldn't get specific on why the Royal City Centre store was included.

"I'm not going to discuss why we chose certain stores and how we arrived at that other than to say we agreed to sell additional stores with Overwaitea," said Walker.

Jones is upbeat about having a Save-On in Sapperton.

"There's a lot of growth in Sapperton still to happen but it has a lot of potential. I know the store has been loved by the community," he said.

Petitions from New Westminster residents and resolutions from municipal politicians were sent to the Competition Bureau and Sobeys pleading with them to not close their Thriftys.

"It's a lovely store and there's great people in there," said Jones.

He emphasized all employees at both Thriftys and Royal City Centre Safeway will be retained and will be talking to them soon.

Jones said the plan is to take over the stores two at a time, and should be finished all 15 by the end of April.

On top of the acquisitions, Jones said Save-On will open a store in the Columbia Square mall formerly occupied by IGA Marketplace. Jones likes that location because all parking is above ground.

"The market at the ex-IGA store is more than a little bit different than the one [in Uptown] and we'll see how much cross shop there is. It's interesting how these things surprise you," said Jones.

He also pointed out Overwaitea's history with the Royal City dates back to the company's first store which opened in Downtown New Westminster in 1915.

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