American novelist Thomas Wolfe got it wrong: you can go home again. Just ask Quebec City IGA owner Alain Gagné.
On Monday, he officially inaugurated his fifth store under the banner in his hometown of Boischatel, just east of Quebec City.
He grew up there working in his parents' small grocery store, which was destroyed in a fire in 1986.
Gagné moved to the west end of Quebec City, where he opened a successful butcher shop that was eventually transformed into his first IGA.
He made news three years ago, when he replaced that location with an award-winning store that was profiled in Canadian Grocer.
He also made news last Dec., when he became the first IGA owner to open the chain's first IGA Express – a hybrid supermarket/corner store/gas station/carwash/fast-food concept that Sobeys is now rolling out across Quebec.
For years, Gagné has vowed to return to Boischatel and build an impressive new store.
True to his word, he has spent $14.5 million to build what is being billed as the largest modern solid wood grocery store in North America.
"This one is my masterpiece," Gagné told Canadian Grocer
shortly after the official 8 a.m. opening, which was attended by two Quebec cabinet ministers and dozens of local dignitaries and business owners.
An invitation-only gala the night before was attended by more than 1,000 family, friends, and customers of the Gagné's old burned store.
Set on a hilltop overlooking the St. Lawrence River, the two-storey structure features 37,000 square feet of floor space, 650 square metres of wood, including more than 1,000 customized pieces, several of them massive.
It also has 90 parking spots in a heated underground garage, and two elevators.
The store is also designed according to Gagné's own layout, which notably includes aisles running perpendicular to check out counters instead of in traditional parallel fashion.
"It improves in-store circulation (and) divides sections better," said Gagné, who first introduced the novel design in his award-winning store in St. Augustine de Desmaures.
The layout of the new store also has the same thru-store, Ikea-like design to help traffic flow through the various departments.
The second floor is dedicated to organic and gluten-free foods. It also has an ice cream stand and a restaurant with stunning views of the river below, and that serves high-quality meals that are prepared using the same ingredients on sale in the store below.
"I'm extremely proud," said Gagné, who has two of his three sons - Vincent and Guillaume - working at his stores. "This new store is the realization of how, in my mind, a grocery store should look."