When Sydney-Anne Porter, a stay-at-home mother, got divorced 34 years ago, she took a job as a grocery store clerk in Prince George to make ends meet while she waited for a more lucrative position.
But when she was offered an accounts payable position that paid twice as much, she realized how much she enjoyed working at the grocery store.
“I loved rearranging things. I loved the customers. I loved the business,” she said.
Ms. Porter turned down the better-paying position so she could stay at the grocery store. Her ex-husband supported her choice, and they fit childcare arrangements for their sons, Greg and Eric, then aged four and seven, around her schedule.
“That was the best decision I ever made,” she said. “If you don’t enjoy your job, you go home stressed and cranky.”
Ms. Porter impressed her boss, Anneli Goheen, and advanced in her career as her sons grew up. Twenty years ago, Ms. Porter and Ms. Goheen became peers. The duo opened a grocery store in Invermere, and Ms. Porter took on the role of general manager.
Then, twelve years ago, Ms. Goheen asked Ms. Porter if she wanted to buy her out and become the sole owner of AG Valley Foods.
Ms. Porter was interested and pitched the idea to her sons. They both immediately agreed to become “owners in training” and moved to Invermere.
“We’ve always talked that someday it would be nice to have a family business,” she said.
Even as youngsters, the boys’ envisioned careers where they would stay close to their mother. One of her sons told her he wanted to become a chiropractor to help her feel better after a long day at work. The other joined in and said he wanted to be a doctor so he could look after her too.
“They were so thoughtful,” she said.
That consideration still comes through in their daily interactions.
“It’s 95 per cent awesome and five per cent we’re family,” she said. “Once in a while I have to pull the Mom card.”
Ms. Porter said she is lucky AG Valley Foods is a family business because she won’t ever have to retire.
“It’s my favourite hobby,” she said.
As the owner of an independent grocery store, Ms. Porter said she “can dare to be different,” to embrace change and to be creative. That kind of adaptability isn’t possible for store managers in large chains, she said, adding that flexibility is a big part of AG Valley Foods’ success.
The special touches AG Valley Foods offers include service from cheerful employees, products from more than 30 local suppliers, ready-to-eat food from an on-site kitchen, and an attention to detail that goes all the way down to the flowers in the washroom.
Ms. Porter said she frequently hears from happy customers. Her favourite comment came from a woman who was new to town who told her, “Walking into your store is like walking into a warm hug.”
In addition to the multitude of local and regional awards AG Valley Foods has received, last year the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers recognized them as the second-best independent grocery store of their size nationwide.