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Powell's CEO says decision to close Harbour Grace store was difficult to make

Dave Powell (left) and John Pritchett are optimistic about the future of Powell’s Supermarket’s presence in the region.
Dave Powell (left) and John Pritchett are optimistic about the future of Powell’s Supermarket’s presence in the region. - Chris Lewis
This message is posted to the door leading into Powell’s Supermarket in Harbour Grace.
This message is posted to the door leading into Powell’s Supermarket in Harbour Grace.

HARBOUR GRACE, N.L. — With the closure of a major supermarket in Harbour Grace, the community is left with plenty of questions.

On Monday night, May 7, it was stated by Harbour Grace’s Deputy Mayor, Sonia Williams, during a regular council meeting that she had received word a decision was made to close the Powell’s supermarket in Harbour Grace.

Powell’s supermarket has had a presence in Harbour Grace for approximately 22 years, with a location operating on Water Street before making the move to Harvey Street, where it was located for 17 years. The decision to close this location was one that Powell’s CEO Dave Powell said he, and the rest of the company, struggled with for quite some time, but ultimately decided keeping the store open simply was not financially viable any longer.

“We were at that location for around 17 years, and a couple years into that move, the bypass road was built, allowing people to drive right past Harbour Grace,” Powell explained. “I don’t know the exact numbers, but possibly upwards of 90 per cent of the traffic was gone. Prior to that, everything that went to or from Carbonear and Bay Roberts had to pass that store, so our coffee shop, Breaktime, and the drive-thru were all doing extremely well. When that road went up, it was like a switch was turned off – we lost a tremendous amount of business right there.”

However, Powell said this was not an immediate deterrent for the business, noting that the location managed to survive for a number of years after the road’s construction, but several incidents that took place in the community over the last few years simply added salt to the supermarket’s wounds that Powell and his team had been trying to heal.

“The closure of the Terra Nova Shoe Factory was a big one,” he said. “And, of course, when the stadium, which was located right across the road from us, closed and moved up to the bypass road. We saw an immediate, major, reduction in volume after both of those events. Not only in our coffee shop, but in our grocery store as well. It just seemed that, no matter what we did, there was no coming back from that.”

John Pritchett is the general manager of Powell’s Supermarket. He said there were several efforts made over the years to salvage the operation and make the store financially viable.

“There was a long process over a number of years to try and tweak our formula,” he said. “We continued with those studies, and more recently, it led us to the conclusion that, through our best efforts and all the strong desire, we just couldn’t find a way to do it.”

Powell said the major events he listed were what really impacted the business. Its downfall was not a constant, steady decrease, but instead saw jumps in success, with the closures of local businesses and opening of the bypass acting as major hits to the location’s financial stability. Despite picking back up and working through these occurrences in the past, it became clear that the store’s chances of success had run dry this time around.

Since the store’s closure, Pritchett says there has already been a significant outreach from the community. He told The Compass there have been two major pieces of feedback they have gotten over the days since – people who are disappointed and concerned, and people who understood the decision and continued to be supportive.

“We definitely understand the people who are disappointed. I mean, we’re just as disappointed. This wasn’t an easy decision by any means,” he said. “But we’ve also had people come out and tell us that they knew it was going to happen, but they’ll continue to shop at our other locations.

“People are obviously disappointed there’s no longer a supermarket in their community,” Powell added soon after. “But to John’s point, I think a lot of people also understand the economic reality – you can’t operate a business without making money.”

Powell’s Supermarket in Harbour Grace closed for good on Monday, May 7.
Powell’s Supermarket in Harbour Grace closed for good on Monday, May 7.

Future of Powell’s

While there have been no major decisions made as of yet for the location of a new Powell’s, Pritchett noted that the team has been active in ensuring Powell’s will not completely disappear from the region, and has high hopes for the supermarket’s future.

“We’ve been looking to get a larger, more full-service supermarket than what we’re able to accommodate in our current building,” he said, adding that while the new store will likely be located in Carbonear, they’re looking at locations that will still be convenient for residents of Harbour Grace as well.

On top of this, an online grocery shopping service is on its way, allowing shoppers to order their groceries online, and either pick it up in a nearby store, or have the items delivered. Pritchett says this will offer an alternative shopping experience to customers who cannot travel to stores in Carbonear or Harbour Grace.

“It’s never easy to make big decisions like that,” said Powell of the closure, “but we’re working toward an exciting future for Powell’s, and we’re dedicated to the Conception Bay North region, for sure.”

chris.lewis@cbncompass.ca

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