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High-end grocery shopping makes comeback in North Bay

Some North Bay entrepreneurs want to bring back the high quality and fresh food experience to the city’s local shopping scene starting this spring.
Ryan Farquhar and Glen Gravelle, co-owners of Farquhar’s Orchards Fine Foods, are bringing the high-end grocery shopping experience back to North Bay.

Some North Bay entrepreneurs want to bring back the high quality and fresh food experience to the city’s local shopping scene starting this spring.

Construction has been underway this winter on a new 16,000-square-foot store on Trout Lake Road that will be the home of Farquhar’s Orchards Fine Foods.

The store is modelled after Bay Produce, which was a fixture in North Bay for 32 years until its closure in 2012. Manager and co-owner Glen Gravelle wants the store to be styled after some of the more upscale gourmet grocers of southern Ontario.

“We’re kind of the Pusateri’s of the North. They’re renowned for products and service, and that’s exactly what we’re focusing on here.”

More than 40 staff will be hired for a tentative May 1 opening. Gravelle is drawing from his 18 years of experience working at Bay Produce, where he began as a minimum wage stock boy before moving up to general manager.

The original owners of Bay Produce, brothers Greg and Marshall Smith, had wanted to upsize from the modest 4,500-square-foot store in Fisher Street.

They had opened a second store in Sudbury in 1998 under the banner of Smith’s Markets and were planning to add another location in that city as well as relocate the North Bay store to larger digs on bustling McKeown Avenue.

But within days of acquiring the north end property, Rexall/Pharmaplus came calling and bought the land.

The Smith brothers decided to consolidate the company in Sudbury with two stores, leaving a void in the local specialty food market.

While the Smith brothers shuffled off to Sudbury, Gravelle began mulling over the idea of developing his own store to carry on the tradition.

He ran into Ryan Farquhar, co-owner of a local car dealership, who, together with his father, Steve, were looking for an investment opportunity.

“Once Ryan and I hooked up it really made it a reality,” said Gravelle.

“We started talking about the synergies, how the car business and all of its attributes and its marketing could tie into a new store in North Bay,” said Farquhar.

While Bay Produce focused on the fruit and vegetable business, the new store will feature an in-store butcher, bakery, deli, seafood counter, juice kiosk, self-serve salad bar, catering department and prepared premium meals-to-go. A floral program will be in place during the summer months along with outdoor bistro tables.

“It’s about the shopping experience,” said Gravelle, “instead of just coming and filling up your cart and leaving.”

Produce will arrive twice weekly from the Ontario Food Terminal in Toronto.

“Marshall and Greg have been very helpful in guiding us along,” said Gravelle.

Marshall has been hired to do their purchasing for the next three years.

While chain stores rely heavily on newspaper flyers for their advertising, Gravelle and Farquhar want to communicate with their customers in real time as the fresh produce arrives from Toronto.

They enlisted fourth-year Nipissing University marketing students to help them with a social media campaign to reach shoppers on an hourly or minute-by-minute basis. A highdefinition TV projection screen on the street will flash photos of produce that’s arriving the same day by truck.

Farquhar has no doubt that the North Bay market can support this store concept.

“People are paying more attention to what they’re putting in their mouths and this store and this whole plan focuses on the demographic that puts freshness and quality as a priority above the dollar being spent.”

“That’s what separates this store from the rest of the chain stores,” added Gravelle.

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