Bonners Ferry's newest business owners met about six years ago in Portland, Oregon, and never imagined they'd be either business owners or in Bonners Ferry, yet here they are ... for just over 45 days, and they couldn't be happier.
Haley McQueen's first job out of high school ten years ago was as a cashier for her local Grocery Outlet, one of over 250 stores across the nation in a chain founded in the 1950s.
From there, she took responsibility for the health and beauty aisle and later into management. She met her significant other, Blake Bevans in 2014, when he was working in the hospitality industry as a bartender and then as a sommelier.
All was going well and then, about three years ago, Haley earned the opportunity to work on a team opening a new outlet in Airway Heights, Washington.
Instead of letting her go alone, Blake kept hold of her hand and went with her, landing a job in that very store managing their wine inventory, working for Haley!
Blake, like Haley, fell in love with the grocery business, and before long, the two began looking at acquiring their own store.
It's not an easy process. The year they applied, so did 2,000 others. Only 66, Blake and Haley included, were accepted and passed the rigorous six month training regimen it takes to own a Grocery Outlet store.
Neither had heard of Bonners Ferry before; they put in for two other stores closer to the Portland area and home, but another unique thing about the Grocery Outlet philosophy is that they match prospective new owners with the best fitting store, not vice versa.
And for Blake and Haley, the best fitting store was to be a new grocery outlet in the former Shopko in Bonners Ferry. The two took the company's decision on good faith and packed up and moved here to open their very own new store.
"We are the owners," Blake said, "but we are fortunate to be part of a great organization with a long proven track record in the industry and a great system to make sure each store is well received and successful."
And they couldn't be any more happy with their new home.
"It's beautiful here, and the people are amazing!" Haley said.
The two hired a crew of 29, most local and many who worked at the Bonners Ferry Shopko before it closed.
They've all been working hard; the building was expanded, rewired and redecorated, work done by local contractors, shelving, freezers and cases installed and stock brought in.
"It's kind of awful," Blake said. "We have a lot of toilet paper, but until we open, we can't sell it!"
They've already had to gently turn away countless curious customers who come up not realizing the store is open.
"The enthusiasm is amazing," Haley said.
"You can't really tell from the outside that we aren't open yet," Blake added.
"Everyone has been great about it, so we're looking forward to a great opening," Haley said.
Normally, opening day would involve a celebration, and one had been planned here, but postponed due to the COVID-19 situation.
"We were looking forward to a barbecue and activities, a fundraiser for the Bonners Ferry Food Bank and more," Blake said, but because of coronavirus, those things will have to wait."
All Grocery Outlets, he said, are very community-oriented, and traditionally July is the month for community food drives and fundraisers.
Opening is set for 8 a.m. Thursday, March 26, and shoppers are in for a treat; wide aisles stocked with an amazing variety that will be, Haley said, priced at about 30 to 70 percent below what you'd pay in other stores.
"One of the things about Grocery Outlets is that they've built very good relationships with suppliers from around the world in the nearly 70 years they've been in business, and they have a philosophy that has proven well received everywhere a Grocery Outlet goes in," Blake said.
They have name brands as well as lesser known labels, and they bring in things that other stores won't try; different flavors, different styles of the food items everyone knows.
"It's pretty common to have customers come in looking for a brand or style they're used to, only to find something similar that they try and discover they like even better," Blake said. "It's all quality, but Grocery Outlets aren't afraid of offering new things, and we get great deals we pass on to the customer."
"It's like a treasure hunt," Haley added. "Our stock changes constantly,, so you'll always find the tried and true, but the more adventurous as well!"
When you enter the Bonners Ferry Grocery Outlet, you'll turn right and see the "Power Wall," where the best of the best deals in the store revolve in an ever changing kaleidoscope. From there, you'll find 10 aisles stocked full, two of them frozen foods.
There are lots of organics; both food and health and beauty, there's beer and the wine selection, Blake said, is awesome.
"We offer some excellent wines averaging from about $3 to $12," he said, "and you'll almost always find a real gem, a quality French we were able to acquire at a discount."
When you're done, you'll find five modern check stations to speed you through checkout with service that's fast and friendly.
Bonners Ferry Grocery Outlet is located at 6355 Main Street, Bonners Ferry, and they'll be open daily from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. To learn more, call (208) 267-2507.