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Thrifty's success in the bag, as chain celebrates 35 years

Dec 02 2012

The bustle inside the Thrifty Foods in Fairfield was typical for a Saturday. Customers filled shopping carts and hand baskets as a full complement of staff worked the busy cash registers, deli and bakery.

But aside from the regular hustle, store manager Jim Fuller and his staff were celebrating Thrifty's 35th birthday.

Fuller basks in the success of the store that started the popular grocery chain in 1977. The company now has 29 locations across the Lower Mainland as well as on Vancouver Island and Saltspring Island.

The Fairfield location, though, will always be home to Fuller. He was a 19-year-old university student set to become a teacher when he took a job stocking shelves in 1985.

Paper bags were the only option for customers back then, and it was unheard of to sell water in a bottle.

"A lot has changed," Fuller said. "When I first started in the industry, we didn't sell bottled water. Now, we have half an aisle of it."

That job stocking shelves allowed Fuller to avoid hefty student loans in the five years he spent at the University of Victoria.

He became such a loyal employee, management created a 4 p.m. to midnight shift designed specifically for him, so he could both teach and still stock shelves.

Fuller was eventually teaching nearly five days a week as a substitute in the three school districts in Greater Victoria. When he was done each day, he would go straight to work at Thrifty Foods on Fairfield Road.

He eventually decided to leave teaching and pursue a career with the company. Fuller took his first management position at the Broadmead location and has held similar positions at other locations, including stores on Hillside Avenue and in Colwood.

Eventually he was offered the full manager's position at Fairfield and returned "home" as he puts it.

"I jumped at the opportunity," he said. "It's a great opportunity for me to come back to the store I started at."

He's not the only one with a close connection to work. John Buck has worked at the store for 28 years. He started out doing store display work and trucking groceries from the warehouse to the store.

Buck is now the grocery supervisor, "teaching new fellas the ropes," he said.

"I like to call this my home away from home. We're all a bunch of team players, and we try to make the store a place that customers can enjoy when they come to shop."

Sobeys bought Thrifty Foods in 2007. The company has more than 1,300 stores in all 10 provinces under retail banners that include Sobeys, IGA, Foodland, FreshCo and Thrifty Foods, as well as Lawton's Drug Stores.

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