New grocer aims for neighbourhood feel at Oak Bay Ave. and Fort St.

History is repeating itself this morning as the Urban Grocer opens its doors at the junction of Oak Bay Avenue and Fort Street.

The location had been a Safeway store 60 years ago and returns to form as a place for the Jubilee, Rockland and Oak Bay neighbourhoods to gather at its deli and coffee shop, and to buy meat, produce and household items.

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Leigh Large, who owns the nearby Vessel liquor store as well as the Country Grocer store on Salt Spring Island, leads the new venture and has given it a nostalgic twist as he remembers shopping at the former Safeway with his mother when he was a child. The building, at 1625 Fort St., went to on to serve as a post office for decades before closing last year.

After an extensive renovation, the Urban Grocer is designed as a mid-sized player in a crowded food sector. The nearest grocery stores are about one kilometre away. There is a Save-on-Foods at Fort and Foul Bay Road and a Red Barn Market on Oak Bay Avenue.

Mark Grey-Draeper, chief operating officer for the Large Group of Companies, said the new store caters to a densely populated area of single-family homes, condos and apartments. It’s walkable for its target consumer and on commuting routes to and from downtown and the Royal Jubilee hospital.

“We wanted to make it a real neighbourhood place, somewhere you can walk to get your groceries, have a coffee in our cafe and get something to eat at the deli,” he said.

The Urban Grocer offers an array of local products and produce, a deli with house-made creations and a selection of everyday grocery items.

General manager Shawn Fahr said the company is supporting local businesses in its supply chain, including Island Gold, Island Farmhouse Poultry, Abeego Beeswax Food Wraps, Justo’s Hummus and Singing Bowl Granola among others.

As a result of its community-centric purchasing, the grocery store helps to reinvest back into the local economy, he said.

“At the heart of Urban Grocer is our community,” said Fahr. “Recent months have proven just how important it is for us to support our community members and we take great pride in doing so through carrying local products and supporting local entrepreneurs.”

Grey-Dreaper said about 40 new staff have been hired as department managers, produce, grocery and deli clerks, cashiers and administration staff.

The store had hoped for an earlier opening since announcing it had secured a lease for the site last spring, but Grey-Draeper said the pandemic delayed permitting and substantial renovations had to be completed using strict safety protocols.

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