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Sobeys' owners bought a grocery store, but got so much more in ESP

Posted: September 22, 2020

Sobeys' owners bought a grocery store,
but got so much more in East St. Paul

When the opportunity arose for Rob and Laura Fulton to become franchise owners of what was in the late 90’s a new IGA grocery store, they could put their names in for one of several being built in the City of Winnipeg or for one going up in East St. Paul.

Rob says he chose the Birds Hill location, was selected as the new owner, and on May 13, 1998, the IGA opened. They were choosing more than a business location he says, they were choosing a home and place to raise their family and be part of a community. It became a Sobeys around 2005.

"The store’s given us the opportunity to be more involved in the community and in turn make life long friends,” he said.

The Fultons retired in May – Laura on May 2nd at the business’s year end, and Rob on May 30th after spending a month helping the new manager transition into the job. It was a family business, with Laura working in the office and daughter Amanda as a supervisor/cashier and Samantha in the bakery.

The daughters are adults now – one living in Thompson and the other in Halifax – and though Rob and Laura will have more time to visit they have no plans of leaving East St. Paul.

Rob started in the grocery business in 1972 as a cart boy at a store in St. James. When he was 16, he started working inside the store and took advantage of full-time hours whenever he could get them.

He worked his way up to store manager and when IGA started building its Garden Market stores, he was in a position to make the move to franchise owner.

It was a big move, and though there was the obvious pressure that comes with moving from employee to employer, Rob says being in East St. Paul made it an easier transition.

He and Laura say the community has been wonderful in so many ways, from friendly and polite customers at the store to making them feel welcome from Day 1.

The Fultons took every opportunity to be involved in the community as well, and Rob says working side by side with others was their favourite thing to do.

"Getting involved with the Tournament of Aces was huge because it really gave me a chance to get involved with the community at a more local level and get to know people that are organizing the tournament,” he says.

"It gave me a chance to get involved with the people as opposed to just ‘here’s a cheque’. It was getting right in there and getting to meet people and be a part of it, that’s really the whole purpose of why we wanted to come to East St. Paul.”

During Family Fun Days, the Fultons would host a pancake breakfast in the store parking lot, and the night before, Rob would borrow tables and chairs from a local church and set them up for the morning feast.

On the eve of the event one year, there was a knock at his door and a young lad was there with an unsolicited offer to assist.

"He said he was going to help me set up for tomorrow,” Rob says.

"That’s a good example of the community in general, everyone’s helping everyone else, helping each other.”

He says there are countless fond memories, including the fair in the parking lot for the Trans Canada Trail opening and Hampers of Hope, which saw Rob camping out on the store’s rooftop until they raised their goal amount and sometimes it took three or four nights. In five years, he says they raised upwards of $60,000.

"One fella threw up his garbage mitt and had an envelope in there and it had a cheque for $500 for hampers,” he says.

"We would get great support for that. It’s been a wonderful community to be a part of.”

Every year students from the local schools would come and tour the store and Grade 6 students would paint the store windows at Christmas time. Rob said it was a lot of fun and they’d have a pizza party afterwards to thank the kids.

One of the biggest challenges of their career has been COVID-19.

"My biggest concern when COVID first started was that somebody was going to get sick. We tried to put everything in place to keep everything safe for the customers and the staff, but you always went home worrying…that’s the last thing you ever want to see is somebody get ill from something like that,” he says.

"Touch wood, everything’s been good.”

He says again, staff and customers adapted to the situation, took it seriously and followed the rules.

Rob and Laura say their staff over the years has been top notch and they appreciated their dedication and hard work. They also wanted to express their sincere appreciation to all the customers for their support, loyalty and friendship over the last 20- plus years.

"It’s been very enjoyable and it just tells us that we made the right decision in 1998 when we came out here."

Rob and Laura Fulton were the original franchise owners of the Birds Hill Sobeys and both retired this past May.


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