Staff and board members of the Whycocomagh Co-op gathered in late June for a special ceremony that saw the presentation of the “Store of the Year (Maritimes) Award” to the long-running Inverness County operation. On hand for the ceremony were (in no particular order): staff members Carole Munro, Liz Chandler, James MacKinnon, Jason Quigley, Carole Munro, George Campbell, Brittany Pomeroy, Betty MacPhail, Eoin Brown, Judy MacLennan, Brenda MacLean, Mary Ann MacInnis, Carolyn MacIsaac, Mary Jeffers, Katherine MacLeod and store manager Jason Rouse; board chairperson Marilyn MacDonald; and board members Karlena Johnson and Earl Johnstone. Missing from this photo are staff members Barb MacNeil, Glenn Freimanis, and Lindsay Quimby.

WHYCOCOMAGH: Eight years after successfully completing an ambitious relocation and expansion plan, this community’s Co-op store is still turning heads and earning region-wide recognition.

The Whycocomagh Co-op’s 17 employees and members of its board of directors recently held a celebration at the store on Trans-Canada Highway 105, to commemorate the “Store of the Year (Maritimes) Award” that the operation received from its Co-op peers at their annual regional meeting this past March.

“It was very unexpected,” recalled store manager Jason Rouse.

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“We almost had to do CPR on Jason,” board chair Marilyn MacDonald chimed in with a smile.

Asked for the reasons behind the Whycocomagh Co-op’s success, Rouse noted that the “Store of the Year (Maritimes) Award” is only presented to Co-op locations that meet specific criteria. These include year-over-year sales, food safety, and “winning conditions” such as the store’s overall outlook, signage, and the results of regular Co-op auditing.

“We have the store in good condition all the time, and I’ve got a great staff at the store – most of them have been there for a number of years, and the production level there at the store is great,” Rouse enthused.

“We’re just getting better at what we do, all the time.”

MacDonald noted that the Whycocomagh Co-op has frequently seen a high level of community support over the past decade, from the basic patronage of local residents to the participation in a Community Economic Development Investment Fund (CEDIF) that allowed the store to complete an ambitious expansion project in the spring of 2009, just over a year after the CEDIF’s launch.

“I think people are very proud of their store and have seen the benefits of the investments they did in the CEDIF,” MacDonald beamed.

“We’re a very dynamic store, we have an excellent staff, we have an excellent manager, and we have a very engaged board. And I think our community supports us 100 per cent.”

With their award celebrations behind them, the store is now preparing for what Rouse calls “a revamp” over the coming year and examining such options as a deli counter that can serve what MacDonald describes as “grab-and-go” meal items.

“We’d be foolish to sit on our laurels and say we’re not going to do anything else,” she declared. “We have to stick with the times and offer up what people are looking for.”

In the meantime, the Whycocomagh Co-op and its staff are proud of all they have accomplished and grateful for the support of their major supplier, Sobeys, which provides a wide variety of products and services under the Foodland banner.

“We didn’t have a meat cutter before, and now we cut meat right on the site,” Rouse noted. “The busier you get, the more you need.”

This increased traffic has allowed the Whycocomagh Co-op to hire three more staff members over the past three years, and MacDonald credits customer loyalty for this growth.

“I do think we have historical loyalty from our members, so we have that core of people that support us through thick and thin,” the board chair declared.

“They’ve stuck with us.”