Store manager Rod Yokoyama said it’s business as usual, though employees at the Taber store and 212 more Safeways across Western Canada will become the property of Sobeys Inc. on Nov. 2.
As a condition of that $5.8 billion purchase, the federal Competition Bureau has ordered Nova Scotia-based Sobey’s Inc. to divest itself of 23 stores where the purchase would create a near-monopoly situation. For the Safeway store in Taber, the Sobey-operated IGA store is the main competition.
No Safeway locations in Lethbridge or elsewhere in southern Alberta are affected, although Sobeys stores in Canmore and Cochrane are on the list. No locations are on the line in Calgary, where the California-based Safeway organization has its Canadian headquarters.
The Safeway acquisition will be a mixed blessing for Canada Safeway employees in Taber, said a spokesperson for their union. Randy Rauben said they’ll keep their jobs over the time it takes to find a third-party buyer for the business, including its 13-year-old building.
Speaking for Sobeys, communications and corporate affairs vice-president Andrew Walker maintains the 23 stores will remain in operation.
“These are great stores with great employees so every effort will be made to find purchasers who are interested in continuing the employment relationship,” he said.
“We fully expect there will be a lot of interest from other grocery retailers,” Walker said.
“That’s part of the agreement, that they have to be sold to grocery retailers that are going to operate them as viable grocery stores.”
While there’s been no comment from potential purchasers, the possibilities are limited. Just two other companies are big players in Western Canada’s grocery field.
One is the Vancouver-based Pattison group — with Save-on, Overwaitea, Buy-Low Foods, Associated Grocers and other brand names — and the other is the Loblaw group from Ontario. Its brands include “no frills,” Real Canadian Superstore, Wholesale Club, Extra Foods and others.
Rauben, an official of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, confirms employees are being told the 23 stores must be sold as going concerns, with staff. While that means ongoing employment, he said the catch is Taber personnel won’t be allowed to transfer to a Safeway location in Lethbridge or further away.
The “must sell” order for the Taber store, Rauben said, is not unlike an earlier scenario in Lethbridge. Safeway operated three stores in Lethbridge, including a 3 Avenue S. location east of Galt Gardens.
When the Vancouver-based Woodward’s department store chain ran into financial trouble, it began selling its real estate — including the Lethbridge Centre shopping mall and office tower. Then it sold all its “Food Floor” locations to Canada Safeway.
That triggered a Competition Bureau order that Safeway sell designated locations, and IGA became the new owner of the downtown store that recently made way for Casa. Later, Safeway closed the former Woodward’s location and built a new store in west Lethbridge.