Staff discovered soot covering the store Boxing Day
© Guardian photo by Wayne Thibodeau
First On Site trucks fill the parking lot at the O'Leary Farmers Co-op Food Market Monday, Dec. 30.
O'LEARY — It will be the New Year before the O'Leary Farmers Co-op Food Market will re-open after staff discovered damage from soot from a heating system failure after the Christmas break.
The tentative re-opening date is Tuesday, Jan. 7.
The Co-op Gas Bar and Co-op Feed Mill are unaffected by the incident and remain open for business. The Medicine Shoppe pharmacy is also functioning, with access separated from the rest of the store for customer safety.
When staff arrived at the store to prepare to reopen after the Christmas holiday, they discovered that the store interior had been covered with a layer of dust and ash from a heating system malfunction. Furnace exhaust had re-directed to the forced-air heating distribution system.
Store manager Darren MacKinnon reported Monday that a lot of work, including a thorough cleaning and complete re-merchandizing, needs to be accomplished before the market can re-open.
“This is critical; it’s a major food source in West Prince, so we have a lot of people who are affected by this, so there is a real push on by everybody, from our board to our management to the restoration, to our insurance company,” MacKinnon stressed. “We have to get back into operation as fast as we can because there are people potentially suffering because we’re not open.”
MacKinnon said some staff had been in the store on Dec. 26 and everything was fine then. The mishap happened between the time they left and the morning of Dec. 27 he said. The furnace, he said, had shut itself off before staff arrived for work on the 27th, but the damage had already been done.
The value of the loss is still being determined, but MacKinnon estimates the stock alone is valued around a half million dollars.
"It is being investigated by the insurance company," MacKinnon said.
Practically all of the store’s stock has already been removed and bare shelving needs to be cleaned.
Ceiling tiles are also gone. A spokesman with the cleaning and restoration company, First on Site, said all the tiles will be replaced with new ones once the overhead grid work has been cleaned.
MacKinnon said First On Site has been on the scene since 7:50 a.m. Friday and around the clock since then. Counting his own 42-member staff and workers from First on Site centers in Summerside, Charlottetown and Moncton, he estimates between 85 and 100 people are working to clean up the store.
Additional product, which MacKinnon described as “critical food items,” like milk, juice, eggs and baking supplies, have been stocked in the co-op’s gas bar and convenience store, located across the street from the main store, and MacKinnon said prices have been re-adjusted so that customers will not be paying convenience store prices.
He said Tignish and Wellington Co-ops are offering member prices to O’Leary Co-op members in their time of need, and have offered assistance in restocking the O’Leary store’s shelves.
The co-op will continue delivering phone orders to area seniors.
There’s also a member-driven initiative underway to organize a membership blitz to assist in the remerchandising.