Pete’s Frootique makes its way to Wolfville

New boutique grocery store hopes to boost the town’s food conscious image

The opening of a new specialty grocery store in downtown Wolfville has created buzz among foodies in the Valley. Pete Luckett, the British entrepreneur behind the “Pete’s Frootique” grocery store brand and the recently opened Luckett Vineyards in Grand Pré, is in the process of opening another business in the Valley. Pete’s Frootique will be expanding to Wolfville, enhancing and hopefully supporting the strong, community oriented food culture that is so unique to the Annapolis Valley. Despite some concerns that the new store will bring unwanted competition, the reception has been overwhelmingly positive.

Luckett operates two other “Frootiques” – one in Bedford and the other in Halifax off of Spring Garden Road. Luckett says that his Halifax and Bedford stores are designed for the “urban customer” and that the Wolfville location will have a “different feel and mood; a bit more relaxed with a country atmosphere.” Nevertheless, shopping at a Pete’s Frootique is designed to be a unique and authentic experience. The stores are famous for their range of local food, selections of exotic fruits and vegetables, British treats like McVitties cookies, marmite and Montreal Bagels. These fancy foods are not cheap, however; in other words, Acadia students should not expect to buy weekly groceries at Pete’s. Still, the grocery store fills a niche that has not yet come to Wolfville. The selection is endless and the stores are heaven for amateur-chefs, weekend-browsers, or someone who is looking for that special ingredient that you cannot find anywhere else.

The new store will be occupying the Warehouse Mall, an old apple storage and distribution warehouse, located behind the Tim Horton’s downtown Wolfville. The historic building will add to the store’s feel.

Why Wolfville and not New Minas or Windsor? Luckett mentions that he is always on the lookout for new and exciting business opportunities and Wolfville seemed to be a wonderful match for a new store.

“The demographic is perfect in Wolfville,” he says. Wolfville is a community that is focused around good, delicious food, and Luckett felt a specialty grocery store committed to providing fresh produce, great customer service, and many avenues for community involvement was a much-needed addition.

Luckett is planning on removing the ceiling in the building to expose the natural vaulted ceiling. Renovations are planned to begin in the fall, continuing through January with an opening in April or May of 2012. The store will be slightly smaller, but Luckett plans to work around the space and create a comfortable and cozy market. Parking and space for deliveries will also have to be reworked in the already busy location. Pete’s ToGoGo – a sandwich and salad takeout shop that Luckett recently opened in Halifax – will potentially make an appearance in Wolfville as well.

“I’ve heard great responses so far,” Luckett says. He hopes the store’s great reputation will also boost Wolfville’s image, adding something “different and unique.” Many Valley residents already make the trip to Pete’s in Bedford to pick up goods you cannot find elsewhere. “Now they won’t have to make that trip,” Luckett says.

Although there has been some concern that a new boutique grocery store will bring hostility or unwanted competition, Luckett’s view is that “business breeds business” and hopes that the stores will “complement what is already here.”

“We want to create a destination and whole new customer who will hopefully shop at other stores in Wolfville in addition to Pete’s. There is certainly enough to go around.”

Carl Oldham, the manager of the Wolfville Save Easy, seems to agree. “It’s free enterprise,” he says. ”The Save Easy is going to continue to do what we do to support the community and hope that the community continues to support us.”

Similarly, Wolfville is known for its strong commitment to buying and eating local. Farmers’ markets, including the newly redesigned Wolfville Farmers’ Market are strongholds in the community and reminders of the ease and importance of choosing local produce. Pete’s, however, is not necessarily all local. Yes, the stores do feature a selection of produce from Nova Scotia farms; but it is juxtaposed with baskets of colourful fruit from the Caribbean or imported British cookies and tea.

Still, the Wolfville Farmers’ Market remains optimistic and is excited to be working with the new grocery store. Kelly Marie Redcliffe, the manager of the Farmers’ Market hopes that Pete’s Frootique will help to cross promote the town as a whole.

“We all need to work together to create a hub in the community that is centered around food, farming, and good cuisine”, Redcliffe says.

Pete’s is an opportunity that should not be taken lightly. It will take cross promotion and collaboration and “it wouldn’t be smart to stand by and just watch what happens. It is important to work together to make something bigger and more special,” Redcliffe adds.

Luckett is looking forward to engaging with the community and customers, and becoming part of the Wolfville business community. The store hopes to hire 50 new employees.

“We are carving a niche and I hope most people will appreciate it,” Luckett says.

The process of carving such a niche in the Warehouse Mall location did end up displacing and disorienting some businesses that are currently renting space. Despite the large number of vacant spaces in the Warehouse Mall, a significant number of tenants will be forced to move. The Clayground, Progeny Software, Wolfville Massage Therapy, Apple Valley Driving School, Lamb’s Way, and MP Scott Brison’s constituency office are now required to find new leases and new locations.

The Clayground is already in the works of moving one building over to 348 Main Street, and although they have not found a place yet, Scott Brison’s office is hoping to stay in Wolfville because the location serves the biggest percentage of Brison’s constituents.

“Our customers are really happy and excited that there is a Pete’s Frootique moving to Wolfville,” Clayground owner Linda Barkhouse says. “Depending on what they carry, I think it will be great for a lot of people, including international students at Acadia who may not be able to find their favourite foods from home.”

Although Barkhouse and a few others are not particularly impressed with how their landlord handled the matter, The Clayground is turning the situation into something extremely positive.

“Yes, businesses are leaving, but we are still existing. We are just going to be in different locations and it is important that our customers realize that.”

The new location gives The Clayground an opportunity to do its own renovations before it opens on August 1st.

“We have a brand new place designed for us and it is forcing us to get creative and forcing us to think about how to use our space. We are going to throw a celebration party instead of a ‘grand opening’ on August 13th.”

Hopefully, other businesses share the same attitude as Barkhouse who believes that “If we have to get out, why not have fun and get creative doing it.”

David Hovell, the head of the Wolfville Business Development Corporation (WBDC), also thinks that the arrival of Pete’s Frootique will be a positive addition to the community and senses that the displacement of other businesses will not be too dramatic.

“I know the membership is very pleased to hear that he is coming. Anytime a new business announces it’s going to open in town it’s a good thing. One thing Pete Luckett has done with his businesses is creating a destination – it’s an experience that you don’t see in other areas and one of the primary upsides to this area is that he is going to attract new people to town who we also hope will patronize other businesses in town,” Hovell says.

The WBDC hopes that Luckett’s confidence in the Wolfville community will reciprocate with other entrepreneurs.

“There is just so much opportunity here, the door is always open,” Hovell says.

Whether it is new grocery stores, bookshops restaurants, art galleries, or cafés, the businesses that thrive in Wolfville are often the ones who foster community involvement, and environmental and social well-being. Hopefully Pete’s Frootique will be able to add to this positive tradition of community appreciation and stewardship.

~Angela Johnston