To Bowness with love
Dear fellow Bownesians,
What a year 2020 was!
The year started for us under a dark shadow of not knowing how long we would be able to stay in business. After many years in the red, the feasibility of our little store in the heart of Bowness was fading fast. We were heartbroken and working hard to find ways to get back in the black.
A long time customer and friend of the Bownesian asked if we would mind if she wrote an article about us to be published in the Bowestern’er. It turned out to be a wonderful article and it started a lot of great conversations with regular customers and brought a lot of love to the store. Fast forward a couple weeks and a bigger news station in Calgary picked up on the local community news article and called to see if we’d like to do an interview. We were a little hesitant, being in the news is not always a good thing, especially when it feels like you’re pleading for help. That is quite literally what we were doing. To say it blew up in a positive way doesn’t seem like enough… all of a sudden our little store was buzzing and it brought literal tears to many of us. WHAT a community! WHAT a city. We asked and you all came.
Elated and cautiously optimistic, our hope began to grow again.
Then something happened that none of us could have planned for, something none of us saw coming. We heard rumblings and reports of a virus in China, a new virus. At first no one thought much of it, viruses happen on the other side of the world all the time. Why would we be concerned? Then, in what seemed like almost over night, Covid 19 was here. Just a few cases, and then a few more. We started hearing about it on our local news, the numbers kept rising. There were whispers of it being classified as a “pandemic”, the concern grew and grew and grew till you could feel it in the air. They declared it a pandemic on March 11th 2020. March 13th was the last day of school for children locally. Shutdowns began. What the heck was going on?
Our lives changed so drastically in the days, weeks and months following. We were faced with difficulties in our own personal lives. From being spouses to someone who was out of work because their job wasn’t essential, to all of a sudden being teachers to our kids who were now attempting to learn from home. Not being able to visit loved ones in hospitals, nursing homes and just in general to keep them safe. On top of all that there was the uncertainty that we all felt. None of us have lived through a pandemic. Fear crept into many of our lives. Social distancing and then masks became our norm. No one really felt like they knew what was going on, how long it would last, how scared or careful one should be. It’s been hard. For everyone.
For us here at the store, we had to move fast as we were essential, we would stay open. Our staff were at high risk. So what do we do? What is the direction? And WHY ARE WE SO BUSY? There we were in this crazy time, and we were busier than we could imagine, we had seen an uptick after the articles and news report, but nothing like this. Being as quick on our feet as we could, we had plexi-glass panels designed, cut and installed to keep our cashiers safe. We applied social distancing stickers in our line up and placed arrows all around the store for people to follow in one direction to help keep people distanced. Our hot food service, kombucha station, water station, F’real milkshakes and coffee stations all had to close, the risk of transmission was too high. We created a plan for staff to follow if they felt sick. A protocol to clean their area as soon as they left. We created enhanced cleaning schedules for the store and the tills, increased sanitation with a 1 to 9 bleach solution recommended by AB health, one of the only cleaners we could get our hands on. Sanitizing all touch points in the store constantly and then again just to be safe. We started wiping down and sanitizing the carts and baskets after each use, but unfortunately the baskets just became too much for our small crew and we made the decision to remove them from the floor.
Our staff were scared and rightfully so. It was a really crazy time right in the beginning and we are so blessed to have the staff we do. Despite their fears, they showed up everyday. They destroyed their hands with sanitizer, they smiled through the fear in an attempt to make themselves and you feel ok. They worked double time doing stock and extra cleaning and serving the incredible increase in customers we had all while trying to stay safe and socially distanced. They never faltered. We are so grateful for them. Its is because of their tireless effort that we have stayed as stocked and sanitized as possible.
We recognize how hard all of this has been for our customers too. We hope that despite covid, the tension, the social distancing and the utter lack of toilet paper and cleaning products, your experience was still a good one. We started taking “online” orders via email as soon as covid started. Its wasn’t very organized at first but we did the best we could to help those in our community who were self isolating for one of many reasons.We had been working on developing an online ordering site before covid hit. It took several months to get it put together and up and running, but it’s there at www.thebownesiangrocer.ca. it’s still very new and items are being added every day, but it’s up and running and you can order anytime.
We have worked tirelessly trying to keep our store well stocked. It hasn’t been easy, but we are almost back to full stock levels. Our main goal through this last year has been to be here for our community. To provide our customers a safe place to shop and order groceries. We have tried our best to stay the same friendly little grocer we have always been and we hope you have seen that. Its been tough. For everyone, all of us and all of you.
We are doing better, definitely without a doubt. We wouldn’t be here without all of you. We know that for certain. But… and there is still a but and they both start with the letter ‘S’, we have 2 large corporate grocery stores opening on our door step. This is still a big deal to us. This is a feeling all small business owners feel when a “big box corporate” starts creeping into their community. We always want there to be a little grocer in the heart of Bowness and we have been taking steps and making changes to keep that possible.
Our plans have been a couple years in the making. The first big step was securing an additional space for us in the new Calgary Farmers Market West being built in the new Greenbriar community. An incredibly exciting opportunity to expand our presence in the community and meet new customers. We are excited to get going just as soon as the market is ready. Covid has caused some delays for the Market but we eagerly await this new expansion.
The second big step we took was hiring some health and wellness experts and opening our own wellness section in our store to meet the needs of our customers. Jessica and Julia have built this section with love. They hand picked every item in it and are there 7 days a week to offer you help, tips and tricks and wellness consultations. If we don’t have our health, what do we have? Especially this year. It has been an excellent addition to the store and Jessica and Julia have been 2 amazing additions to our team. We hope you pop into their section the next time you’re in and say hello.The third big and ongoing step is a transition in our store to stocking more local and specialty items. We have so much good local stuff from right here in Bowness and Calgary and many from Alberta and Canada. From Abbey’s Ice Cream, to Bowness Soapworks, VDG Salami to Kingdom Coffee and too many more to mention, we carry a beautiful collection of locally made goods, which we think always contain a little more love. You’ll also notice a large increase in organic produce and products, something we have seen an increased demand for. You may also notice a large and growing assortment of groceries for our vegetarian, vegan, gluten free and health conscience customers. We will always try our best to be here for everyone.
We want to be a special place. Whether it be that you are just popping in to buy milk, bread and eggs or are coming in for a one on one consult with one of our wellness experts… we want it to be an experience, not just a chore. We will always strive to provide excellent service and products in a friendly and neighbourly way.
So here we are, almost a full year out from the announcement of the pandemic. A year! Wow. Its been difficult and challenging, frustrating and fearful, but its also been a year of watching again as our little community came together. In so many ways the community spirit echoed that which we saw in the 2013 floods. Bowness came together for each other and you all came together and showed up for our little store. We want to say thank you, thank you from the bottom of our hearts, we wouldn’t be here today without our community. As Bowness continues to grow, expand and change, we hope you will continue to visit our store, check out our new products and help us stay right where we are. Like we said earlier, for now, we are ok. Its not a sure thing, business never is, but we have a plan and we have a community full of people who care about the little guy and we hope that as these bigger guys come in, you won’t forget about us. The Bownesian employees over 25 people, the majority of them, including our owners, live right here in Bowness, they know you by name, they are your friends, family and neighbors and they are happy to see your face every day. Together we will face 2021, happier times will come. Covid will eventually be a distant memory. Exciting things are happening in our little store and we can’t wait to share it all with you.
Much love and appreciation.
The Staff of The Bownesian Grocer
This article was written by Amber; a current staff member of almost four years. Amber has worked almost every position in our store. Currently, she is our Scanning Coordinator and Administrator. If you’re a regular, you know her well. Amber, her husband and her son have lived in Bowness for 15 years. Amber’s love for our little store existed long before she worked here and she continues to be a fountain of ideas, hope and kindness. Here at the Bownesian, staff are not just a number, every staff member here is a real member of the team. All our staff are invited to share ideas, concerns, opportunities and opinions.