Campobello Village Mart not likely to change hands at end of month

Campobello – With just three weeks left until the Campobello Village Mart closes and owner Richard Young moves back to Alberta, there is no one ready to take over the store so residents can continue to buy groceries without having to cross international borders. Young said he was working with Greg Hooper, owner of Uncle Mayn’s in Blacks Harbour, and former Campobello MLA Curtis Malloch, who were going to partner up and take over the store.

“He said on his Facebook site what they were going to do,” said Young, who is surprised he hasn’t heard anything about what is going to happen with the store, but refuses to let the stress get to him. “The stress is over with. It’ll be what it will be. I’m leaving here soon. If there’s no store here for people, I won’t be here to listen to it.”

It isn’t that no one wants to take over the store. Hooper said he would love to take on this unique challenge, but he needs a partner who is a resident of Campobello to be able to make the venture feasible. He and Malloch had planned on working together to keep the store open, but Malloch said he decided it might not be a good idea for him. The timing of the takeover would coincide with the beginning of lobster season, and as a lobster fisherman, he didn’t want to give up that guaranteed income for something that has no guarantees at all.

“I had some interest in the store, but I’m a fisherman,” said Malloch. “I know nothing about suppliers, pricing, and the store business. I’ve known Greg Hooper for a few years, and we talked a few times and got together. We decided that we would try it. The bottom line is, with this location and me being a fisherman, I just felt that maybe I wasn’t completely sure about the store and where it would go.”

Malloch said he knew he would have to keep fishing in order to supply a steady income for his family and make sure there was enough money to cover household bills. He wanted to work with someone who would be dependable, but at the end of the day, he just doesn’t see where he would be able to make a go of it. But, he does think that the store would benefit from being owned by someone local. He had planned on bringing his family into the business to give it a family feel. His son could work on the cash registers, and younger children could stock shelves and do other odd jobs around the store. But, he just wasn’t willing to take the risk at this time.

“It’s risky to begin with,” said Malloch. “The store has been here for 27 years and it’s been through a few owners. Business just kept going down and down. Patty moved out west, and Richard wants to be with her. I think that if it was locally owned and operated, it might help it out. I went to Greg and said I think I’m going to opt out. I told Richard I’m going to opt out.”

Malloch said the decision to not go into a partnership with Hooper wasn’t an easy one to make, but after looking at all of the variables, he feels it is the best decision for himself and his family at this time. He said he makes a decent income in the fishing industry, but worried that he would be stretching himself too thin. He looked at how hard this would be on his family, and decided that there were just too many variables.

One of those variables is the cost of running this type of business on Campobello, which is in a very unique situation. During the off season, there is no ferry to the island, so products must come from Canada through the United States. In order to be able to bring products to the store, they would have to pay for a bond, along with transportation costs and the wages for those who would be making the deliveries. He said that could add up to around $15,000 annually, in addition to the other costs involved in keeping the store open.

Another problem is while there are more people on the island during the summer months, the regular population is just over 800, which is not always enough to count on in order to keep the business afloat during the winter months.

But, Malloch sees this as a great opportunity for the right person, and he would like to see someone local step up and partner with Hooper, who is still very interested in the venture. Malloch said one of the benefits of Hooper being involved is the fact he has other stores, and product could be brought in from those stores, including fresh meat.

“The good part was, if you find yourself getting low on product, you could call Greg and tell him what you needed,” said Malloch. “That store is only two and a half hours or so away. This store could actually feed off that store. But, you have to get the bond to get the product from the US back into Canada. Me and Greg are still talking, and he’s looking for someone else on the island who can put some skin into the game.”

Hooper said he still has intentions of moving forward with the store, as long as he can find a local person to partner with him. He agrees that it is expensive to do business on Campobello, but it can be done. He needs someone who is on the island and who can operate the business. He knows the store doesn’t have a great history with residents, but that is something he thinks could change with the right owners.

“I’m willing to invest in it at the right price,” said Hooper. “I’d like to see the citizens of Campobello have some kind of service over there. I believe we can make it work. It’s not a huge investment, but I know it’s a small market over there.”

Hooper said if there was year-round ferry service to the island, there would not be as many financial issues surrounding the day-to-day operation of the Village Mart. But, he also realizes that this would be a huge expense, and it isn’t something that the provincial government is able to afford at this time. He does think that it should be the responsibility of both the federal and provincial governments to provide year-round transportation to the island.

Hooper said he is still pushing to start operating the store on March 31. He has Sobeys on board, and has many things lined up and ready to go. He has a lot of the financing in place, but he needs someone from Campobello that he can work with. He even said he if he doesn’t end up buying the store, he would be more than willing to help anyone who is interested in buying, offering advice and help when needed.

“There’s got to be a plan in place soon, whether I get the store or not. Something’s got to happen to help the people.“