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New grocery latest sign of change in Cook Street Village

Today’s opening of Root ­Cellar Village Green Grocer’s new Cook Street location marks the latest evolution in Cook Street Village, home to low-rise buildings filled with diverse locally owned businesses and newer condo developments.

Today’s opening of Root ­Cellar Village Green Grocer’s new Cook Street location marks the latest evolution in Cook Street Village, home to low-rise buildings filled with diverse locally owned businesses and newer condo developments.

The store’s opening in the former home of Oxford Foods at 271 Cook St. brings a new family of grocers, Daisy and Adam Orser and their three sons, who are all involved in the business, to the neighbourhood.

Oxford Foods was run for decades by the Louie family, who closed their store in late 2020. The Orsers, meanwhile, founded the first Root Cellar at Blenkinsop Road and McKenzie Avenue 13 years ago.

The family started negotiating to buy the Cook Street property in December 2019, pre-pandemic, closing the deal in July 2020, Daisy Orser said Tuesday.

While they were “petrified” because of the pandemic and other unknowns, they received positive feedback from customers and also won some business awards, Orser said. “Our customers were so tremendously supportive during COVID.”

At more than 10,000 square feet, the renovated space is filled with plenty of produce — a focus of the Orsers from the start. It also offers pre-made meals, a deli, and a meat area.

Shiny fruit is stacked in containers lining windows facing both Cook and Oxford streets. The idea is for the windows to create a market atmosphere similar to what exists in tents at the McKenzie location, Orser said. “You can wave at your friend across the street.”

There are about 60 staff and the company is still hiring for the Cook Street location. The McKenzie location has about 110 employees.

Store hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

Kristiane Baskerville, owner of Surroundings home decor store on Cook Street and a director of the Cook Street Village Merchants Association, welcomes the newcomers. “The fact that we got to keep a grocer was really key for us.”

She predicts the grocery store will make Cook Street even more lively. “It’s a win-win, I think, for many of us.”

Baskerville, who established her store 29 years ago, said her Oak Bay clients have said that when they visit Surroundings, they plan to pick up something from the grocery store at the same time.

“It allows people to do a few things in the village instead of just a couple — I think the liquor store is going to see a spinoff, the florist,” she said. “I really feel that in the last three years, the village is becoming more cohesive.”

Baskerville praised the Root Cellar’s large mural running along Oxford Street, featuring produce painted in white and greens over a black background. “We always wanted [a mural].”

Cook Street is one of the best people-watching communities in the region. Dog-walkers are common and customers fill up busy coffee shops and restaurants. Shops include a pharmacy, meat and seafood store, clothing store, salon and a spa.

James Bay resident Sue Ingimundson walks to the ­village regularly. She is glad to see some products carried by Oxford Foods, such as jars of Ukrainian borscht, are available in the new grocery.

The village today has more traffic and more eateries than in the past, but has retained its character and big horse chestnut trees. “But it’s nice. Everywhere is busy, you know.”

Mike Woodley, who lives nearby, was sorry to see a fish-and-chip shop close a few years ago. “But there’s other things that people enjoy — the coffee shops — we never had those in earlier days, but they are very popular.”

The pub, which opened many years ago, has been a good addition to the village. A bank branch closed, but not as many people need to go into a bank now, he said. “That just reflects the change in the whole general situation.”

cjwilson@timescolonist.com