Skip to main content

A cool country store, with tractor included

Country Grocer's new store on Vancouver Island is a treat for customers to visit

The new Country Grocer in Nanaimo, B.C. feels more like a farmers’ market than a supermarket. On purpose!

From its bright red barn-like facade to retro wooden signage and wooden plank–like vinyl floors, the store conveys three big ideas: comfort, history and homegrown.

“The design came from the owners,” explains Nathan Middleton, an architect with Raymond de Beeld Architect, of Nanaimo, who worked on the project. “They said, ‘We want you to feel that you can shop in your pyjamas.’ ”

VIEW: A slideshow of Country Grocer in Nanaimo

One thing is for sure; the 40,000-square-foot store breaks away from the big-box feel of many modern supermarkets. It’s a return to grocery’s roots, emphasizing a connection to farms and local produce.

“It looks like a supermarket, but we’re trying to give it a warm, country feel. We wanted to make it feel outdoorsy, but cosy,” says assistant store manager, Tyler Large, a third-generation member of the 29-year-old family-run business.

Nowhere is that strategy more evident than in produce, where a classic Ford tractor sits comfortably over chilling eggs and ham. In the dairy section, the farm theme continues with full-sized Holstein cows.

“The Country Grocer branding is all about being friendly, comfortable and welcoming,” says Bodil Ellins, principal at Spaceworks, an interior design firm.

VIEW: A slideshow of Longo's new store in Oakville

Ellins has worked on five of Country Grocer’s seven stores. Each was matched to the surrounding neighbourhood. In Nanaimo, a dropped canopy in the deli has a copper-pressed tin look, reminiscent of a style from Nanaimo’s early coal mining days.

Rather than hide the structural elements and mechanical systems, Middleton integrated them into the design. Huge windows let customers watch staff prepare food in the kitchen. “You see activity rather than just a blank wall and people start engaging with the building visually,” says Middleton.

One thing grocery stores aren’t known for is the property surrounding the building, which is usually drab at worst, functional at best. But at this store, considerable effort went into making the outside livable. A pedestrian walkway links private and public space, and there’s a seating area to eat food.

“The arcades are built from heavy timbers and stone and are the first thing that you pass through as you enter the building,” says Middleton. “It gives the architecture character and an agrarian feel.”

Of course, the store’s down-on-the-farm theme doesn’t extend to its operating systems. A central computer manages all mechanical, electrical and refrigeration. The system was designed specifically for the store by Island West Coast Developments of Nanaimo.

READ: A store that combines the best of urban and rural

Tina Brooks, operations manager, expects it to result in huge energy savings. In addition, the whole system can be managed remotely and provides advance notification of problems such as a loss of product.

Several environmental features are also included. Heat generated by refrigeration units is reclaimed to heat water in the warehouse. And a storm management system reuses collected water.

Perhaps these additions shouldn’t come as a surprise. A store that purports to go back to the farm should be green, too.

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds