The two lines stretched out the front doors and around the construction fencing surrounding the “big barn” at the corner of Dewdney Trunk Road and 227th, hundreds of people, many of them young and holding resumes.
It was the job fair for the new Meridian Farm Market in Maple Ridge.
People had been coming to the new building for months while it was being built, and company president Josh Penner and the rest of the team had been telling them to return for the job fair.
And they did.
“We had just over 250 people,” said Penner. “We had 10 staff working, and every one of those people had at least one one-on-one interview. From start to finish, it was five hours, so it was quite a machine.”
The local businesses hired 42 people to work in every one of the store’s new departments – deli, meat, produce, grocery and on cash. They are mostly entry-level jobs, and Penner said 40 to 50 per cent of the new employees are high school students, while some are post-secondary and returning-to-the-workforce applicants.
“We hired at least a couple of people who had retired, and then decided that they wanted to come back,” he said.
Meridian is a family owned business with six locations. The business has been located off Lougheed Highway next to Langley Farm Market downtown. But the lease was running out and Meridian was being asked to move. It couldn’t find a suitable new place to rent. So Penner and his partners decided to build.
“It’s been a lot of learning,” said Penner. “Up to now, we have only done tenant improvements, and that is a very simple process.”
He said the original design for the new building looked nothing like what has been built.
The changes started the day the drawings went to city hall. They were told their building had to be at the front of the lot, not the back, and their two-storey proposal would not meet the city’s three-storey height requirements. It was the first of many times they would go back to the drawing board with architects and consultants.
Penner said he gained a new appreciation for the work of the city’s planners.
“They’re thinking 50 years ahead. Buildings don’t get torn down every day and rebuilt, so they have to think long-term and stick to a vision.”
Even simple changes to the plans caused ripples that went through every trade on the site, Penner added.
“To me, a humble butcher, I’m just ‘change that.’ But there’s layers upon layers.”
For him, “It’s been an all-around good experience. I think we’ve enjoyed the process.”
He likes the final product, and it’s definitely built-to-suit. His family is from Port Coquitlam, where the first store opened in 1989. They have had a store here since 2004. He owns the company with his wife Amanda, brother Kevin Penner and brother-in-law Brody McDearmid. All of them live in east Maple Ridge.
“This is home, and it’s where we want our head office to be,” Penner said.
There are individual offices for the partners and key players in the family business, where before they had seven people crammed into a single office in their present Maple Ridge store.
Upstairs, there is a test kitchen for new products and recipes – “we’re always trying to innovate,” Penner said – and a room to get photos of products for their advertising flyers. There is also 2,500 square feet of space available for rent, and will likely be leased for offices.
The downstairs market is airy and bright – a benefit of the city requirement that the building appear to be three stories, even though it is two. Two rooftop “crow’s nests” get the building up to city height guidelines, and are the finishing touches that give it the appearance of an agricultural building.
Penner said the unique design fits well with the company’s farm fresh branding – and you can’t miss it.
He thinks the location is promising, at the corner of busy Dewdney Trunk Rd. and 227th St. – a unique route which connects them with the Abernethy Connector, Haney Bypass, and everything in between.
“Our customers spend an average of $20. They’re in and out and they’re getting their fresh food for that night, and their lunch and a couple things. But they’re not doing their full shop. Convenience is an important element to our style of business,” Penner said.
• A grand opening event is set for Saturday, May 14.