Safeway Extra manager Albert Mutis invites people to explore the renovated and expanded Willowbrook store that officially reopened today (Friday

Grocery outlet unveils some firsts in newly renovated Langley store

New features include a cheese ambassador and juice bar in the Langley Safeway Extra.

Yesterday, there was still a huge white construction tarp stretched across the front of the store.

Today, with some last minute touch ups of paint, frantic power washing, final stocking of shelves, and frenzied cleaning, the Willowbrook Safeway reopened to an awaiting crowd of customers just after 7 a.m.

Despite the rain, there were folks lined up outside the newly renovated 200th Street store s hoping to score on some of the specials and to receive one of the $10 gift card given out to the first 250 through the door.

After eight months of sawing, hammering, and other construction noise and mess, Canada Safeway’s parent company Sobeys Inc. officially reopened the 200th Street outlet today – rebranded it as a Safeway Extra, said store manager Albert Mutis.

“The store is beautiful,” said Mutis.

He left at 9:30 Thursday night and was back at 3:30 Friday morning to ensure the everything was ready for the launch.

“I’ve never seen a store look this good. I’m excited about it,” he told the Langley Advance, scanning the aisles and nodding to many frequent customers who passed by and offered congratulations.

The store – which was first opened in this location in 1990 – is introducing many firsts for Safeways across the country, he elaborated, pointing specifically to a full-time well-being counsellor and a cheese ambassador that have been added.

He pointed out that the renovated store has a juice bar added to the expanded produce department. He explained how the bulk food section has grown. The seafood department has live crab and lobster tanks. And, a few extra square feet have been added to the footprint of the building to accommodate the Starbucks coffee bar at the front of the store.

“Every department has grown to some extent, Mutis said.

While the general blueprint for the building hasn’t actually changed much, they reduced the warehouse area to allow for more retail space and to accommodate all the changes and additions.

“There’s a lot more added services and offerings,” he elaborated.

The former deli department has been broken up into two specialized areas.

The deli, with an expanded cheese section, is one, he said, noting that “…we’ve got every type of cheese imaginable.”

The other is a home-meal replacement section that has taken over a large chunk of real estate in the centre of the store, featuring among other things a carvary station with the likes of prime rib.

In addition to all the section changes and expansions, the staff has also grown, Mutis said. They’ve hired roughly 40 new full- and part-time staff, bringing the final number closer to 140 people.

Chaos behind them

“I’m proud of the store,” Mutis added. “I’m proud of the staff who supported us to get it to this stage…” and he’s particularly appreciative to his “patient” customers.

He admits that at times during the past few months, it has been chaotic. He feels for the customers who, for instance, put up with all the construction noise. Or those who would come in for pet food one week, then return a week or two later only to find dog food had been shifted to the other end of the store to accommodate construction.

Despite all the “turmoil” during the past many months, it was worth it, he said constantly scanning the store to make sure everything is running smoothly on reopening day.

While he and his team are excited about the changes, he said the reaction from customers so far has also “been very positive. They seem to love it.”

Significant retrofit

While Mutis has been with Safeway for 26 years, he took over the helm of his hometown store seven months ago – just as construction was getting underway.

Admittedly, he said, as a manager he’s never known normal at this store.

But as a long-time Langley resident, he has been a regular customer at both this store and the other Langley outlet at Fraser Crossings – where his son works.

Excited to be working in his own community – after five years of commuting into Kitsilano – Mutis said he’s hopes he gets a chance to stay at this Langley store for a while and experience it when things get back to a routine.

“I hope I get to stay here. I’d like to see it through,” he said. “The commute is not quite as long,” which he described as another huge bonus of being at the Willowbrook store.

About 10 years ago, all the Safeway stores – including this one – underwent some refreshing. Those construction projects were much more minor in scale, taking six weeks or so – on average.

But, this is the largest renovation Mutis has overseen, and after eight months of work, for he and the staff “it’s a relief to be done.”

“I’ve been through remodelling before, but nothing to this calibre,” he added.

Admittedly, there was a few unexpected little hiccups – the kind that go along with any renovation project of this magnitude – and a bit of a delay in construction, but it was only about a week, Mutis said.

Ultimately, it was all worth it, he said, beaming as he spoke of all the transformations made to the store.

CAPTION: Safeway Extra in Willowbrook donates 1,000 in Safeway food hampers to local Langley Food Bank during the store’s grand reopening Friday morning. – Photo special to the Langley Advance

Specially for the reopening

In addition to the special grand reopening offering of gift cards, and many in-store specials, the company marked the reopening with a $1,000 donation of food to the Langley Food Bank.

Ian Mair, the executive director of the local food bank, was on hand to load up six buggies filled of food.

Safeway Extra is also hosting a large number of demonstrations and samplings this weekend, and will be hosting a parm cracking event at 2 p.m. Saturday, where they will crack open a 100-pound barrel of Parmesan cheese and serve it up to customers.

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