When a massive fire destroyed the only grocery store in North Kawartha Township just over three years ago, the community felt its loss in more ways than one.
Since 1976, the Sayers family and their supermarket had been part of the fabric of the village of Apsley — first as Sayers General Store before becoming an IGA, a Foodland, and then, in 2017, Sayers Independent Food Town.
While locals were suddenly left without a place to buy groceries during the trying times of the pandemic in December 2020, they also lost one of their social hubs — the fire occurred early in the month before the provincial-wide lockdown after Christmas. While Sayers was a place for fresh produce and pantry staples, it also provided some residents with the chance to connect with their fellow community members.
With construction now completed on a new store expected to open early in the new year, North Kawartha Township Mayor Carolyn Amyotte is bubbling with enthusiasm about the prospect of the return of Sayers Foods.
“It has been really tough,” Amyotte said. “We’re a resilient community and we adapt, and certainly people have adapted, and local businesses have adapted to support community folks.”
The mayor said that effort has been impressive “but certainly nothing takes the place of having a full grocery store.”
The gap caused by the fire was felt even more so because Sayers had taken on an active role during the pandemic, Amyotte noted, by stocking up supplies, arranging for 24-hour shift coverage, introducing an online ordering system, and delivering groceries to people who were in isolation.
“They were rock stars,” Amyotte said, adding having them “sidelined” just before another provincial lockdown was “heart-breaking.”
The mayor recalled hearing the news of the fire at 7 a.m. on December 5, 2020 and thinking, “I’ve got to go in and give my town a hug.”
“At that point, we couldn’t even picture where we are today — the end is near,” Amyotte said of the three years it has taken to get to this point. “It’s a beautiful new building, which is going to be a game-changer for downtown Apsley.”
After the fire, according to Amyotte, she was working behind the scenes, with every level of government “on standby” to try and help the community.
“Everybody recognized the seriousness of the situation and were prepared to come forward.”
Amyotte said Sayers has a key economic impact on the community for not only the seasonal residents and tourists it attracts during summer months, but for its year-round residents who are employed by the store.
“They were one of our biggest employers — one of the top three,” she said about the Sayers family. “They’re also big community supporters.”
Jeff Sayers co-owns and manages the store with his siblings Barb and Rick. His parents are semi-retired but will still have an office in the new building. He says he expects to have between 30 and 50 employees when the store is open and at full capacity.
It has been a long three years, Jeff said, filled with processes that needed to be followed which encompassed insurance paperwork, consultants, an appraisal, and some construction material delays — but walking away from the grocery store business wasn’t an option.
“This is our way of life,” Jeff said. “We’ve received an outpouring of community support. The community definitely needs a grocery store.”
In addition to the supermarket essentials, the new Sayers Foods — which has increased square footage in the store portion — will have an expansive deli, which will encompass ready-to-go meals and a pick-up window. There will also be a café with seasonal outdoor seating and Wi-Fi.
Jeff projects the store will have a “soft” opening in late January, as he is just waiting on the occupancy permit, and anticipates a grand opening in early spring.