Dorchester grocery store reaches milestone

June 16, 1982 was an exciting day in Dorchester. An enthusiastic crowd gathered for the grand opening of the 12,000 square foot Dorchester Market at the Village Centre Plaza on Dorchester Road. President of the Knechtel Corporation, Cranston Knechtel, cut the ribbon and wished the Frook Family well.

Current Thames Centre Mayor Jim Maudsley shared his memories of the event. “North Dorchester was thrilled to have its own grocery store.” Egan’s Superior Store on Catherine Street had closed a year or so before and became a variety store, so residents were happy that they didn’t have to drive into London for groceries. Mayor Maudsley said the grocery store has been supported well by the municipality over the years. “It’s always been great to have a grocery store of that calibre in Thames Centre.”

The Dorchester Market was part of an expansion of the plaza that included Woody’s Restaurant & the Woodshed and Lynn’s Floral Creations. The three businesses joined existing tenants Scotiabank (known as the Bank of Nova Scotia at the time); Hunt & Wallace Insurance Agency; the dental office of Dr. Jones and Dr. Dorchester grocery store reaches milestone Doan, the Century 21 office with Jack Graves, realtor, and broker Sandy Krueger; Siskind, Cromarty Barristers & Solicitors and Village Big V. The original plaza was 11,000 square feet and opened in the fall of 1976. Charcomp Developments Inc. was hired to build the expansion.

Lind Lumber, Home Hardware, the Township of North Dorchester and Brent-Reg Construction were among the businesses that congratulated Dorchester Market owners Barry and Thais Frook on their new store in a special section of The Signpost.

Grand opening specials included: white, sliced Knechtel bread – 39 cents for a 24-ounce loaf, Silverwoods partly skimmed 2% milk – $1.59 for a three-quart bag, medium ground beef – $1.68 per pound and bananas – four pounds, $1. The store hours were: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Thursday and Friday and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday. The market featured an in-store bakery, deli counter and dry cleaning service.

Knechtel’s basic philosophy was to make the independent retailer successful by being competitive with the corporate chains.

Dave Clarke and his family took over the ownership of the store from the Frooks in 1986. Longtime Dorchester resident Beatrice Cove, who was a councillor at the time the grocery store opened said, “Dave Clarke was an absolute asset to this community.” The store has been her main grocery store since it opened. A couple of years later Dave purchased the grocery store in Belmont. He passed away in 2003 and his wife Linda and son Scott took over operation of the store. The store was sold to Sobey’s in 2006. Linda said the family always appreciated the community’s support. She continues to work at the store as a cashier and Scott manages the Belmont Foodland. Linda said, “Tony’s taken it over and has done a good job.”

Tony Vandevyvere, the current store owner of the Dorchester Foodland franchise along with his wife Cindy, have run the expanded store, now open 24 hours, for four years. He said, “We like the size of the store and what it had to offer to the community. I was excited to be offered the store.” He was aware of the good reputation the Clarkes had when operating the store and knew he needed to continue a high standard of service.

The most recent store expansion increased the size of the bakery and produce sections. “I’m very fresh focused,” Tony said. “I thought it would be a nice fit for my merchandising style.”

The co-owner of Dorchester Foodland has been in retail since the age of 16 and started out with Foodland as a produce specialist three and one half years ago. “The community’s been fantastic,” he said. “They’ve supported the store really well.” Tony enjoys the challenge of keeping the store up to a high standard.

Many students got their first job at the grocery store. There are currently about 60 part-time staff members from the local area. Tony said, “They’re exceptional youth who help make the store what it is today.” They usually have about 100 student applications on file. Dorchester Foodland is proud to be part of the LDSS co-op program. Two or three students usually participate during the school year.

There will be a sale and celebration to mark the Vandevyvere’s fifth year as owners in May. “We’re going to stay here and continue to grow the business and someday settle in Dorchester,” Tony said. His family resides in Tillsonburg.