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Grocery store vital piece of St. Lazare community

Kiera Haney delivers groceries to a customer's vehicle at Haney Grocery and Deli in St. Lazare.

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Kiera Haney delivers groceries to a customer's vehicle at Haney Grocery and Deli in St. Lazare.

A new grocery store is not only bringing St. Lazare together, it’s reuniting the Haney family.

Melinda Haney’s brother Mervin was enticed to leave Calgary to come work for a grocer now bearing the family name in small-town Manitoba.

It's a family gathering at Haney Grocery and Deli, with, from left, employees Mervin Haney, Norma Dupont and owner Melinda Haney.

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It's a family gathering at Haney Grocery and Deli, with, from left, employees Mervin Haney, Norma Dupont and owner Melinda Haney.

And the siblings’ parents will leave British Columbia, hopefully this summer, to retire in St. Lazare, and run their daughter’s grocery store.

"It’ll be a family-run business for sure," Melinda said, now five months into opening Haney Grocery and Deli, located along St. Lazare’s main drag.

It’s only been a few months, but the store matters greatly to the community.

For more than a year, St. Lazare residents went without a grocery store, after Decorby’s Family Foods shuttered operations. Instead, people drove to Birtle or McAuley to put dinner on the table.

Losing the corner store was a setback to St. Lazare, which, in recent years, went without a gas station and furniture store.

Melinda, who worked for Prairie Mountain Health the last six years, knew this. She was thinking of her community and two boys when she contemplated re-opening St. Lazare’s grocery store, encouraged by the local community development corporation.

"I wanted to liven up this town a little bit, too, bring some life here," she said.

Early reviews suggest as much.

Customer Darlene Hayden went so far to compare the grocery store to a valuable commodity.

"It’s like having gold back," she chuckled. "Otherwise we had to travel to Birtle, which is around 12 miles away. And if you missed milk, especially when it’s -40 C below outside in the wintertime, it wasn’t fun."

It doesn’t matter so much now if Hayden — who cooks for her mother, brother and herself — forgets an ingredient. On a recent afternoon, she was in the grocer three times that day.

"If I miss something, the store is there," she said.

The grocery store opened for business last December — in the same site of Decorby’s, at 215 Main Street — and has welcomed many people through the doors.

For repeat customers, Norma Dupont — Melinda and Mervin’s aunt — is a familiar face. She was the resident butcher at Decorby’s for 17 years.

Her experience in the food industry has served the new owners well.

"We brought her on to show us the ropes, so she actually kind of runs it," Melinda said.

Norma explained the grocery store has always had steady traffic, even more after the community’s restaurant recently cut back its hours to only a morning operation. As a result, Haney Grocery and Deli now feeds the lunch crowd.

Then there are those just starting to hear that St. Lazare has a grocery store again.

"All of the customers that had been 20 minutes or a half-hour away, they’re all starting to come back," she said.

Mervin Haney, who was working in Calgary’s waste and recycling services for 18 years, had a gung-ho attitude when his sister mentioned she wanted to run a grocery store in St. Lazare. It was the community they grew up visiting each summer to see extended family.

"I said, ‘let’s do it,’" he said, explaining he was tiring of the big city and wanted a safe, quiet place to raise his daughter.

Melinda said she’s exploring new business opportunities. She has spoken with the CDC about resurrecting the town’s gas station, at the empty lot beside her store. She may take on an ownership stake in the gas station, or assist in other ways.

Whatever form the business takes in the future, it should remain an investment in the lives of Melinda’s family and community.

Perhaps the store will be passed down, like to Melinda’s son Ty and Mervin’s daughter Kiera, who happily hauled grocery bags into a customer’s van after school one day.

Should Kiera own the store, "I’d give discounts," she said.

» ifroese@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @ianfroese

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