May 3rd, 2023
Nguyen has owned and operated the Semans Grocery Store for two years. He also owns the cafe in a small community of 200 and a surrounding rural population of 600 plus.
Like many small businesses post-COVID, Nguyen has struggled to keep business going. He said that because no one was coming in the mornings, he couldn’t maintain staff and has had to reduce hours to the afternoons during the week and open during regular business hours on Saturdays. He said he’s just trying to survive to keep the doors open.
The cost of perishable goods such as lettuce and other products that customers want has increased so much, and since he has to buy a box at a time that to make a profit, he has had to pass the cost on to customers who aren’t happy about it. “It’s very difficult,” he said the costs have doubled and tripled, “it’s unbelievable.
As a result, he’s unable to keep as many items in stock as he used to. He understands why people are unhappy because of the cost and lack of items. He is feeling it too. “I think that they are right…every people care about their money. They can’t buy from me because it’s too expensive so they go to Raymore or another big store, they can buy cheaper. I can understand that.” He is feeling the brunt of people’s unhappiness about what’s happening when people aren’t getting what they expect. “It’s been very stressful in a small village.” He wishes people understood what he’s been struggling with.
Nguyen worries about the elderly residents in the community; many, he says, don’t drive and rely on his business. “If I were to close, I don’t know where they can go. I sympathize with them. So I stay open for that.”
“That’s absolutely the people that hurt.” Semans Mayor, Jay Holmes, agrees with Nguyen. He noted that the community’s Affinity Credit Union is also closing, and he told them that “you are not really hurting the people who are mobile. There is a group of people in this community that aren’t mobile, and now there is no place to get cash. It’s the same with the grocery store.” He said there are local people who are struggling and not mobile, “I see them walking down to the store all the time and leaving with a bag of groceries. It would be pretty modest, but it’s still something they need.”
When asked what he would say to the people in the community, Holmes said, “the biggest thing is, Don’t expect your local amenities and stores to be the way they used to be. Because that isn’t reasonable. The world has changed…out in rural Saskatchewan there isn’t near as many people to support these businesses. So it’s very hard for these businesses to survive…you should support them to a degree that you can. You go and get a little bit from them all the time… if everybody buys a little bit, you will keep them in business…”
Nguyen says, “…many people in the Village, they are very nice…they know that I sell more expensive than Raymore but they still support us. That’s why it keeps me to stay here with them.”
Holmes says if everyone quits because they are mad that things have changed, pretty soon there won’t be anything. If people stop there once a week and buy a few things they need, that will help a lot. Then, they can go to a major grocery store elsewhere for the rest.
“The community needs to support the place, not just quit it. Just come and buy what they can and what’s available. And if they all did that, business would pick up somewhat where there would be certain things that you could buy at our store all the time.” says Holmes.
Holmes buys about a quarter of their list from the store. He said that the store needs to know its market and keep in stock those items that don’t perish as quickly and that people in the area need.
Holmes said Nguyen’s suppliers wouldn’t leave him only four heads of lettuce, “His point is well taken and that was the problem with the co-op…they would throw half of it out.”
Nguyen said his trading company has been holding up the store. When asked if he would be closing, he said, “I’ve tried to find people to run [it]. But if I cannot find people to run [it], I will close, but not now.” Nguyen says he’s found a couple who will be coming to live in the community in July and will run both businesses, allowing the store to be open longer each day.
By Jennifer Argue, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on May 05, 2023 at 20:12