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Grocery store adapts to changing times

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Russ Mierke recalls almost having to drag his 15-year-old daughter out to Elie, away from her Winnipeg friends, but 26 years later Rena is still living and working in Elie at the family’s grocery store.

Plus, she now makes her own line of sticky buns, one of the bakery items prepared, baked and sold in the Elie Grocery Store. Other baked goods include breads, buns and pastries.

Daughter Kyra recently helped her parents develop their line of gourmet pizzas, called Pizzas on the Go, which are made with premium ingredients.

The Mierkes bought a pizza oven a year ago as a means of expanding the store’s
business.

"We decided to go with a premium, or gourmet, pizza," Russ said.

They are able to have a pizza cooked and ready for pick-up within 15 minutes of a customer’s call. Their most popular pizza is the Cartier, which combines ham, pepperoni and mushrooms.

Russ and wife Anne bought the store in 1987 and moved to Elie with their family, living on the second floor of the original building, constructed in 1908. He said he wanted to leave a high-pressure job in Winnipeg, so the couple decided to buy a business.

"We thought this store had the best potential," he said, although the interior wasn’t in great shape at that time, requiring renovations.

The store retains its original pressed tin ceiling and hardwood floors, but the Mierkes expanded the building in 1994.

"We tripled the size," Russ said.

By using bricks similar to those found in the original structure, the Mierkes were able to blend in the new addition’s exterior. Two rental suites on the second floor add to the business’s income.

It didn’t take long to fill the new space, Russ said, as they increased their stock and added Chester’s Fried Chicken to their operation.

They opened a takeout window at the front of the store, making hamburgers and fries to order, but found that wasn’t successful. Russ said most customers didn’t want to wait 10 minutes for their lunch to be prepared, so they switched to making and selling a variety of sub sandwiches.

"We have a variety of sub sandwiches that are ready to go," Russ said, adding they had to figure out how many to make ahead of time for the busy lunch hour’s customers.

The store is open seven days a week from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. In addition to the family members who work at the store, there are six part-time employees.

Shelves behind the cash desk hold bottles of liquor and wine, as the grocery store is an MLCC outlet. It’s also the local Greyhound bus depot.

Russ said the store is still changing to meet local needs. New additions to their stock are Jeanne’s Bakery log cakes and a self-serve station for refilling purified water bottles.

Asked if he sees any competition coming from the new Tim’s counter in the Elie Esso station, Russ said he’s not worried, as he feels his store offers different goods.

Tim’s doughnuts, it seems, might just meet their match in Rena’s Famous Sticky Buns.

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