About two dozen people gathered at the Hillsborough FreshMart on August 8th to hear what owner Terry Stafford had to say about the future of the village’s grocery store.
“People have been hearing rumours, so I wanted to make my position known,” he said.
“I’m concerned about the loss of businesses,” Stafford told his customers. “That affects the village itself because of the tax base. We don’t want to be a ghost town. I didn’t realize when they closed the bank how bad it would hurt my business, but it did and I don’t like it. We should have fought harder for that bank...could we win that battle? I don’t know, but we don’t want to lose any more. But there’s still a light at the end of the tunnel.”
He says the right buyer must be someone with grocery experience. He’s willing to stay on part-time to train them or transition the business, but “there’s $200,000 in inventory here with a ‘best before’ date. If you don’t know what to do with that, you’d best stay away.”
Hillsborough mayor, Barry Snider was present for the announcement. “It’s awful to think about this,” he said. “I don’t want this to happen. I want us to figure something out—I don’t know what that is, but we’re certainly willing to work with Terry any way we can.”
For a rural community, a grocery store is more than just a supplier. It’s also a gathering place to catch up with neighbours and friends, an important employer, tax contributor, a boost to community spirit, and an essential draw for families interested in moving to the quieter lifestyle offered by rural areas.
Stafford worked hard to grow the business and serve the community. His employees are both efficient and loyal, exhibiting the spirit of friendliness and hospitality that's a trademark of the area. When Stafford was recently hospitalized, the employees stepped up to fill his shoes while he recovered.
It’s rare to not find Stafford stocking shelves or loading bins of produce. Ask him how he’s doing, and his response is always the same: “Livin’ the dream!”
“I’ve lived in 22 places and four provinces,” Stafford says. “And I’ve been more readily received and accepted here than anywhere.” But he’s 71 years old now, and his wife, Ann, is ill. “I’m here seven days a week and I owe it to her to be home with her,” he says. “She deserves that. I’ve been at this for 56 years and it’s time for me to go.”
The Scotiabank closure forced people into Riverview or Moncton for their banking, and many began to pick up their groceries in town. This affected his sales.
“The support this man has given our community is unbelievable,” says Snider. “Terry’s given a ton to local groups. I’ve never heard him say no to anyone. So it’s frustrating to see how he supported the community so well, and now it’s not supporting him when he needs it.”
Although OMISTA Credit Union was willing to fill the gap left by the Scotiabank closure, it was unable to draw enough new customers. Then, when the province bought out businesses on the floodplain to prepare for raising the road, Broadview Power Sports moved to Riverview, The Railway Diner reopened in the Irving gas station, and the car wash closed completely.
“That’s a lot of change in a short time,” Stafford says. “Who’s going to take over a business in a dying community?”
Hugh Morrisey was there for the announcement and stayed after to talk to Stafford. “I feel a lot of concern if this store closes,” he says. “There should be some sort of effort towards keeping it here.”
“It’s not so much for Hillsborough itself, but this store serves every community from here to Alma,” says André Arsenault, a local house painter and handyman. He worries about seniors and families who don’t have the means to drive to Riverview for groceries and banking. “It’s integral to this community and all along the strip of Route 114.”
“And Terry knows us all by name,” he adds.
Long time Hillsborough residents, Barb and Gilbert Rawline came to offer support as well. “It was very handy, especially for last minute stuff,” says Barb. “When it was closed for repairs, we really missed it a lot.”
She refers to the roof collapse due to snow load in 2015. The store was closed for eight months while repairs took place. With that financial blow, Stafford was tempted to walk away, but felt a commitment towards the community and his staff.
At that time, municipal councilor Jeff Jonah told the Times & Transcript. “When this store opened three years ago, it really brought our community back to life...You don't know what you got 'till it's gone.”