Highland Creek Supermarket checking out

As a woman approached the Highland Creek Supermarket last week, she noticed the windows had been covered with paper. A nearby ‘For Lease’ sign accounted for the locked doors.  The woman examined the sign for a brief moment before walking back to her car, shaking her head.

Next month would have been the supermarket’s 24th anniversary if the doors hadn’t closed on Feb. 5.

Residents of Highland Creek may be puzzled over the sudden closure, but former manager Donna Paterson said it was a long time coming.

“We had been thinking about it since last April, thinking when it would be a good time to get out,” Paterson said over coffee a week later. “There is never a good time to get out.”

When Paterson had walked into the coffee shop, regular supermarket customers had greeted her and had been shocked when she explained the supermarket had closed for good.

One reason the family-¬owned business decided to close its doors was a change in demographics.  New families were moving into the area and opting to shop at big-name stores, rather than at the small village grocer.

“You need to find your niche when you’re in a little community,” Paterson explained.  “We had that but it just became too exhausting.  As long as there was a store there was no life [outside of the business].”

Tony Sammut, co-owner of the grocery store with his son Leo, is 79 years old and was working seven days a week.  Now that the store is closed he will be able to retire.  Leo hopes to find a job so he can work five days a week.  For the past few years, the store was run only by the three of them.

“There are people who have not been able to approach us and I can see it in their faces.  If they open their mouths they will cry,”  Paterson said.  Over the years, the supermarket has become a place of social gathering.  Paterson describes it as being a huge family.

A large part of this family is the community’s seniors, who relied on the Highland Creek Supermarket’s delivery service for food, some for the full 24 years.

“It’s like we were their surrogate parents. You can’t desert them. You can’t tell them ‘You can’t have food anymore’, ” Paterson said.

For those who qualify, Paterson recommends calling West Hill Community Services for assistance with replacing the supermarket’s services.

She doesn’t know for sure what will replace the supermarket, although she says it will not be another supermarket.

That location has been the home of food markets since the 1920s. The Morrish family used to live in the residence above the store.

“I don’t think [Highland Creek] is deteriorating, I think it’s just evolving,” Paterson said. “I think it’s changing for the better. If you don’t change things, they just crumble.”

The Highland Creek Supermarket was a large part of the community’s small-town feel.  The windows may be covered, the doors may be locked and the supermarket may be gone for good, but the small-town feeling is here to stay.