New grocery store for SRF after fire
SMOOTH ROCK FALLS - Two years after the community's only grocery store was destroyed by fire, Smooth Rock Falls residents can again shop within town boundaries.
On Dec. 15, Smooth Rock Falls Freshmart opened its doors to the public. Mayor Michel Arsenault said it's all good news.
“It means a lot,” he said on Jan. 2. “It means safety, first of all, because it takes a lot of our seniors off the highways in the winter time to go out of time, to go shop for groceries. Especially the winter we've been having so far, it's been so cold and the highways have been quite treacherous at times.”
Since the former grocery store was destroyed by fire September 2015, residents had two options: buy from two smaller stores or travel outside the community.
Arsenault explained that two business owners expanded their inventories to offer necessities like milk and butter. But many residents had to drive to Kapuskasing, Timmins and Cochrane for the bulk of their groceries.
“It's nice that people have stepped up and brought their inventories up in town, just to provide people with the necessities, but we needed a grocery store, definitely,” said the mayor.
“We had a lot of people on the highways,” he said.
“It's not always pleasant because it's Northern Ontario. You never know what kind of roads you're going to end up with, especially in the winter time with all the transports coming down Highway 11. They don't go on (Highway) 17 in the winter time because of the hills. There's more traffic in the winter on Highway 11 than there actually is in the summer.”
Volunteers also stepped up in the interim to make sure seniors who couldn't travel still got their groceries in the aftermath of the fire.
Carole Cloutier, coordinator of the Aging at Home program in Smooth Rock Falls, told The Daily Press in September 2015 about citizens and residents of neighbouring communities who offered to help residents who couldn't shop for themselves out of town.
“There are a lot of generous people willing to help out,” said Cloutier. “There are so many people I've seen on Facebook saying if you need something at the grocery store let me know, and letting people know if they are going to Kapuskasing, or they're going to Cochrane.”
The mayor agreed in his 2015 interview.
“The phone calls we've been getting and offers for help has just been overwhelming,” he said. “This is what Northern Ontario is all about.
“When something happens, we all stand up for each other and help each other out.”
The owners of Blanchette Freshmart chose not to rebuild after the fire.
“It took a long time to get to this point,” said Arsenault. “We had to wait for them to make a decision on whether or not they were going to rebuild. It took a while for them to get a response from the insurance companies. It always takes a while for that to come.
“After they decided that they were no longer going to rebuild, that's when we decided to purchase a building, it was the Fields building on Highway 11 in town here. And then we hired a company out of Timmins to fix it up for us.”
Arsenault said council knew from the beginning they would have to “step up and do something.”
He said, “It would be a huge investment for somebody to come and build something or renovate to do this. We took it upon ourselves to do it, and we're really happy that we did, because the results are great, and we're really pleased with it.”
An official opening is planned for late January or early February. The store's opening of Dec. 15 was good timing, said Arsenault.
“Not everything was ready for the store. Some of the fridges and freezers were not ready yet, but (owner Martin Boucher) still opened up to make sure that people got the necessities that they needed for Christmas.”
Arsenault said Boucher is from Hearst and also owns a grocery store in Longlac.
The community is relieved and pleased to have a grocery store again, said Arsenault.
“The reaction of people was really great. They were all happy that finally, our grocery store was open and they're able to stay in town and shop.”
The mayor said he believed 11 part-time and full-time jobs were created as a result of the store's opening.
He said it was never a question for the town to go without a grocery store permanently.
“It's too far for us to travel to get what we need,” said Arsenault. “It's a convenience that you can't go without.”
Arsenault is hoping that the community supports the new store.