If there’s one thing everyone should do for at least a few weeks in their life, it’s work at a grocery store.
The great melting pot, the unequaled equalizer in small cities has to be the grocery store. It’s where we bump into old friends, learn the latest gossip and gather provisions for the coming week.
Everyone, invariably, visits the grocery store.
For six glorious years in the 1990s I worked at Loeb, a massive grocery store on Vincent Massey Drive that has undergone more than a few name changes since I last filled the milk racks in the dairy cooler.
Today it is known as Metro, and next month (maybe even sooner) it is closing. With its closure will go the memories and stories that only I and dozens (hundreds?) of others know about working in a place where you could hide, joke, work hard and learn.
We had a ball. As a young person I couldn’t understand why my friends would want to go work at a hamburger joint where one is stapled to a grill, or cash register, for hours on end. Working in a grocery store allowed just enough freedom to stretch your legs, meet people and learn about responsibility.
Loeb was where I became known for announcing the ‘three stars’ over the PA system at the end of nearly every shift I worked. As a young hockey fan I thought it would be fun to jokingly announce the names of fellow workers a few minutes after the final customer left the store at 10 p.m.
The practice lasted for most of the six years I was employed there, and when I visit the store today people that I worked with more than 20 (gasp) years ago still bring it up.
At the time the store was owned by Bill Willis and his wife Betty. Very nice people. It was also the first time my teenage brain clued into the fact that being an adult wasn’t easy.
A fellow by the name of Pete Laperle, my first real boss, tore into me one day early in my career as a grocery packer because I had become notorious for talking and joking when I should have been working at filling bags for harried customers. He told me, in no uncertain terms, that if I didn’t shape up I would soon be shipped out.
It was then that I realized this wasn’t school – it was a job. These people didn’t have to keep me because it was the law…I was only there for as long as THEY deemed it necessary.
As young people we also learned about responsibility and how to deal with people. As a grocery clerk I laboured for a man named Tom Wilson, who taught me about a hard day’s work before I even knew what the phrase meant. Tom respected people and their work ethic. He went to bat for many of us more often than we knew.
His wife Anne still works at the store…for now.
This column could easily be considered an obituary – it sure feels like one while writing it, because in many ways it is.
When you live in a city long enough, eventually you will see things start to change. Just the other day my wife and I were looking at photos of the ‘old’ Seaway International Bridge. The photos were taken just a couple of years ago, but the bridge that stood over our city for decades is all but demolished.
Domtar is gone too…so is the Fifth Wheel Truck Stop and Memorial Park Public School.
Of course things are progressing here in Fun City. The Cotton Mill District is quickly becoming a jewel in east-end Cornwall, Bridgewood Public School is set to open its doors at the corner of Marleau Avenue and Nick Kaneb Drive this fall and this summer paperwork will finally be signed that will allow the city and Akwesasne to assume stewardship of the harbour lands.
(Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, it is hoped, might even show up to help usher in the changes on the waterfront.)
But amidst all the hope we have for future developments in Cornwall, often the changes we seek come with a cost.
For me the cost will be to further push back memories of my teenage years when the most difficult decision I had on the way to work was what radio station to listen to.
For others who today rely on that grocery store to put food on the table the costs will be much more.
Here’s hoping that, eventually, those people will come to remember that grocery store with fondness too.