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Famed grocery family sells locations to big banners

Three Moncion stores to become a Metro, No Frills and Your Independent Grocer

The weekend sale of three grocery stores in Eastern Ontario marks the end of an era for a prominent family in the retail food business, and the beginning of a new battleground for two industry giants.

On Oct. 31, all three Moncion family food stores in Pembroke and Petawawa underwent changes in ownership.

Loblaw Companies bought two of the sibling-owned stores: Moncion’s Riverside Market location in Pembroke’s West End Mall, and Moncion Grocers Petawawa Market.

Both locations closed their doors for the first time in more than 30 years, on Friday and Saturday, respectively.

According to a Loblaw spokesperson, the Pembroke store will be converted to a No Frills and reopen early next year.

The store in Petawawa is closed this week and will reopen on Saturday under the Your Independent Grocer banner.

The third store–Moncion's Pembroke Market–was converted over Halloween night and reopened Nov. 1 as a Metro franchise, owned by former store owner Sylvianna Moncion-Duff.

"The timing was right," Pierre Moncion, the now-former owner of the West End Mall store, told Canadian Grocer on Tuesday. "It's no secret the business is getting tougher. And it's nice that we all sold together. We're all really thrilled (and) it's positive news for the community.

According to Moncion, the idea for the three-store deal started to take shape about six months ago, when he and three of his store-owner-siblings–Denis in Petawawa, and Sylvianna and Gilles in east-end Pembroke–began negotiations with Loblaw.

"All of our stores were linked and we all had longtime buying agreements with Loblaw," said Moncion.

The sale price was not disclosed.

When asked why Loblaw failed to buy all three stores–allowing rival Metro to buy its way into market where it was not present–Moncion would only say "it didn't work out."

Like his seven siblings, Moncion worked in the family business from a young age, sorting bottles and packing groceries at the independent chain of stores owned by his parents, Omer and Reina Moncion.

The chain started in Pembroke's west end in 1951, and grew through linkages with Loeb to become Pembroke Foodliner in 1961.

Fondly known as Mr. and Mrs. Grocer, the Moncions became mainstays in the Canadian grocery scene over the next 40 years.

They notably made headlines in the 1980s, when Pembroke Foodliner took then-franchisor Loeb Inc. to court, winning important rights for franchisees and their treatment by wholesalers.

"The Moncion family are legends in the Canadian grocery industry," John Scott, then-president and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers, said when Reina Moncion died in 2010.

Some employees expressed sadness about the closing of the two stores last week.

"It was pretty emotional, especially for the ones who have been here the longest," said one longtime employee in Petawawa, which has roughly 100 employees.

According to Karen Gumbs, senior manager of public relations for Loblaw, the new No Frills store will "offer grocery essentials at great prices, unique brands like President’s Choice and No Name, and a community presence that customers appreciate."

For his part, Mark Bernhardt, a communications specialist with Metro Ontario, said buying the store owned by Sylvianne and Gilles Moncion–then selling the franchise back to Sylvianne–made good business sense.

"We have a very large presence in nearby Ottawa and are very active in Eastern Ontario," said Bernhardt.  "(The Moncion store) presented an excellent opportunity for us to become a major player in a market in which we were not present."

He added that some unique and popular store services, notably a drive-in for grocery pick-up, will continue.

Bernhardt also called the store's overnight conversion, which included the rotation of Loblaw brand products to Metro labels, and the installation of a Metro banner over the old Moncion store sign, as "a unique situation."

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