There’s something special about shopping at a locally owned grocery or specialty store. Maybe it’s the smiling staff who greet their regulars by name and the extra special care they take with customer service. Maybe it’s the smell of freshly made bread and baked goods or the anticipation of the first bite of that made-to-order deli sandwich. Maybe it’s knowing you’ll find that comfort food or snack from your home country that isn’t readily available in larger stores. Maybe it’s the feeling of nostalgia for days when there was a local store in every neighbourhood. Maybe it’s all of these things combined.
Whatever gives you that special feeling when you enter one of these stores, we know they form an important part of the fabric of any community. So we asked you for your favourite local grocers, did some of our own research, and compiled a list of 11 stores specializing in everything from local, to ethnic, to health conscious foods that you need to visit the next time you go grocery shopping.
Jolley Market Foods
We started our tour of local specialty grocers by heading west to long-standing local grocer Jolley Market Foods. Owner/Operator Marie Halverson calls the store a convenience store without a gas station, but we discovered they’re so much more. They offer the dry and frozen food and fresh produce you’d find in larger grocery stores with an added dose of friendly humour. They are the neighbourhood store where kids buy candy with their weekly allowance and where they later get their first jobs. They run a ‘bring a book, take a book’ program for seniors who can’t get to the library as often as they’d like. And they sell local products and support local hockey teams. Construction is currently happening outside the Jolley Market, but they’re still open and accessible via the Bon Voyage turn-off.
Best known for: Their bakery, deli, and ready to bake pizzas.
Location: 4653 Highway 16 West
3610 Sari Sari Store
Next on our list was the 3610 Sari Sari Store, which was a new discovery for us. ‘Sari-sari’, literally translated, means ‘variety’ or ‘sundry’, and such stores are an important part of Filipino neighbourhoods. Located in the Massey Square, this store has been operating for six years and specializes in Filipino groceries but also offers money and immigration services. Owner and Manager Jo Ocbena greeted us with a big warm smile when we walked in and happily described their wide range of products to us, explaining that most people visit them to buy comfort foods and spices from the Philippines. Their customer base extends across central and northern BC, with people driving from as far as Williams Lake and even Prince Rupert on their long weekends and holidays to buy the foods they’re missing. And like a lot of local stores on this list, the 3610 Sari Sari Store is deeply interwoven in the community, planning concerts, showing local films, and organizing sports tournaments.
Best known for: Comfort foods and snacks from the Philippines.
Location: 3691 Massey Drive
Adria Deli has been importing specialty foods from across Europe to Prince George for over 20 years. Owner Ana Katalinik stocks the shelves with a wide range of dry goods and snacks that you won’t find in larger grocery stores, and if she doesn’t have it and you want it, she’ll try to source it for you. In addition to groceries, Adria Deli offers catering services and makes fresh-to-order sandwiches that you can pair with the soup of the day. They are popular for their homemade cabbage rolls, perogies, pork schnitzel, and Schwartz potatoes.
Best known for: Specialty European goods and fresh made sandwiches.
Location: 3578 Massey Drive
Ave Maria Specialties
Ave Maria Specialties is a well-recognized store as it has been operating in the Gateway area for over 30 years. In addition to a range of health and beauty products, they offer a fully stocked grocery section. They specialize in organic and non-GMO foods and offer a range of products for people with food intolerances or allergies or those who follow a specific diet, including gluten-free options. General Manager Dawn Matte says it’s important for them to support local, so they employ local and work with a number of local vendors. They are currently looking at sourcing non-GMO foods from Europe.
Best known for: Their wide range of organic and non-GMO foods.
Location: 1638 20th Avenue
Birch & Boar Charcuterie and Provisions
Birch & Boar Charcuterie and Provisions is a relative newcomer to the local specialty store scene in Prince George. Co-founder Brian Quarmby describes the store as a “New York bodega”. They started out with a stall at the Farmers’ Market and now have a permanent location on George Street. Their main focus is on sustainability and using local products from Prince George and BC. Visit them for local dry aged and cured meats, specialty cheese, a range of dry and frozen goods, sourdough bread baked in-house by the Wild Bread Bakehouse, and ready-made takeaway sandwiches and other lunch foods.
Best known for: Local cured meat and freshly made sandwiches.
Location: 547 George Street
Marquee International Food and Gifts
The next stop on our list was just around the corner at Marquee International Food and Gifts, which has been selling a range of Asian groceries out of its 5th Avenue location for almost 20 years. They specialize in dry and frozen foods from Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, and more. At the request of some families from Mexico, they added an aisle of Mexican foods including tortillas, cheese, and hot sauces and are looking at bringing in Persian foods in 2021. Creating a comfortable and easy shopping experience is important to Owner Brian Chang, so he has organized his store according to food categories and ethnicities.
Best known for: Wide range of Asian foods.
Location: 1193 5th Avenue
DJ Afro Superstore
DJ Afro Superstore is located downtown Prince George on 2nd Avenue. The store has been providing African and Caribbean foods and beauty products for three years, but owner Prudence Attah-Obeng just took over the store in January 2020. She welcomed us into the store with a bright smile and explained the store’s offerings, which include a range of meats and fish, a type of spinach founds in the tropics, bitter leaves, African yams, plantain chips, cassava flour and spices used in West African and Caribbean cuisine. Attah-Obeng says people visit her store for a taste of home or because they miss the foods they ate while travelling.
Best known for: Cassava, cassava flour, goat meat, and spices.
Location: 1424 2nd Avenue
PGI Market on 5th
PGI Market on 5th has been serving the surrounding neighbourhood and Prince George for over 60 years, making it one of the longest-standing local grocers in the city. Much like the Jolley Market, PGI Foods on 5th has a real community vibe about it. The smiling staff were quick to greet us. Owner Karen Pruden says that’s one of the things they’re known for: always welcoming their customers with a smile, knowing their regulars by name, and making sure customers who are having a bad day leave feeling cheered up. In addition to dry and frozen goods and fresh produce, they offer fresh baked bread and treats, deli made sandwiches, and homemade meals that they prepare and freeze for the seniors from the surrounding neighbourhoods who frequently shop at their store.
Best known for: Fresh baked breads, buns, and treats.
Location: 2900 5th Avenue
Foothills Foods & European Deli
Foothills Foods & European Deli has been specializing in Italian and Portuguese items for over 25 years. They offer a range of dry and frozen goods, with their pasta line from Italy being one of their most popular items. Most people who have visited this specialty store know they offer deli sandwiches, but might not know that they bake their own bread and buns daily, along with a range of other baked goods, and also make pasta sauce and some of their sausages from scratch. They offer a wide range of cheeses, recently adding cheese made on Saltspring Island and in the Comox and Courtney areas to their offerings. Like the other stores on this list, they’re very community minded, with Owner and Manager Paul Goyer saying they have supported minor hockey teams for as long as he can remember.
Best known for: Italian pasta line and in-house made pasta sauces.
Location: 4194 15th Avenue
If you want homemade food, the Jerky Factory should be your next stop. You might think this shop only specializes in sweet and spicy beef and turkey jerky, but the name doesn’t tell the store’s whole story. Owner Donna Wiggins makes a range of homemade meals, soups, jams and jellies, relish and pickles, pickled eggs, pot pies, and desserts. Fresh baked bread and cinnamon buns are available every Wednesday and Friday after noon. Wiggins also believes in supporting local vendors and sells a variety of Watkins products and handmade soaps, along with knitting, sewing, and jewellery.
Best known for: Jerky and homemade foods and preserves.
Location: 3712 Austin Road West
Homesteader Health Foods
Homesteader Health Foods is located in the Hart Shopping Centre and has been providing a range of whole foods for over 30 years. Manager Kathy Hart jokingly says the store is best known for being closed on Saturdays and open Sunday through Friday. They are also popular for their range of essential oils and supports for the immune system and stress.
Best known for: Essential oils.
Location: 6561 John Hart Highway
What’s your favourite local specialty grocer? Is it one on this list or one that wasn’t mentioned? Share them with us on Facebook!