FreshCo in Maple Ridge opened in December. The store had to shut down for half the day Saturday, due to thieves destroying the refrigeration system. (Kevin Marshall/FreshCo)

FreshCo in Maple Ridge opened in December. The store had to shut down for half the day Saturday, due to thieves destroying the refrigeration system. (Kevin Marshall/FreshCo)

Thieves target Maple Ridge grocer

Bandits stealing copper from FreshCo forces store to be shut down for half day amid COVID crisis

Thieves have struck, hitting hard on one of Maple Ridge’s essential service operators.

FreshCo, Maple Ridge’s newest grocery store, was the victim of an overnight attempted theft this weekend that put the supply of all refrigerated and frozen food for local residents in jeopardy, confirmed store owner Kevin Marshall.

Sometime overnight, believed at about 12:30 a.m. Saturday morning, thieves climbed up to the roof of the store – on the Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows border – and attempted to steal copper piping from the store’s refrigeration unit.

While Marshall estimates the thieves made off with little more than $20 worth of actual pipe, they did cause more than $130,000 in damage and caused unnecessary distress for customers and staff.

The would-be thieves “destroyed” the system while trying to cut away sections of pipes. They’d start cutting, but as gas began to seep out, it appears they would stop cutting and move on to another section of pipe. This was done multiple times.

“It was such a big mess, and for nothing,” Marshall said.

“It put the store into a catastrophic refrigeration failure,” he explained, noting the damage was discovered several hours later when staff came in to prepare for the 7 a.m. opening and heard refrigeration alarms going off throughout the store.

A team of refrigeration experts were called in, and it took more than half a day to replace parts and repair the damage.

“It was a sad day,” Marshall said, noting the store could not reopen until 1 p.m. Saturday – and the two freezer aisles had to remain closed for the duration of the day.

In normal times, that might not have been as disruptive to customers. But due to the COVID outbreak, and everyone’s efforts to limit activities outside the home, being unable to go shopping as planned at FreshCo likely threw many people’s plan into disarray.

“It hurt from a financial perspective, for sure,” Marshall said. But more importantly, he added, from a consumer standpoint, people were unable to get everything they needed. “That’s what really hurts at this time.”

It was also an “emotional” hit for his staff, Marshall said, that adds to the existing stress everyone is already feeling.

“It’s a deflating thing,” Marshall said. “It definitely impacted on staff morale and added undue stress… It’s an emotional set back when you’re trying to be here for your community and it doesn’t allow you to do that.”

But the hardships for himself and his staff aside, Marshall shared how his team quickly rallied together to move all the food into freezers in the back of the store, and a refrigeration truck that was brought in to help with the emergency. Then, once repairs were complete, they hustled to move most of the food back, so they could get the doors reopened for customers.

Marshall was disheartened by this weekend’s attack. But admittedly, he said, the store was quite lucky that more was not lost. It could have been much worse.

The FreshCo store owner and his staff of about 110 people opened the Maple Ridge store on Dec. 5, taking over the former Safeway location between Dewdney Trunk Road and Lougheed Highway.

Having been in the business for almost a quarter of a century, for the first time in his career Marshall is now implementing special security measures to prevent such theft and damage in future.

Disgusted that thieves would strike on one of the community’s essential services, he noted that other grocers in the region have also reported increased break-ins and vandalism like this in recent weeks.