Though he is not officially retiring until August, friends and family paid tribute to Safeway owner Wes Erlendson with a farewell barbecue at Little Red River Park on Wednesday evening.
People from around the area arrived to salute Erlendson for his work in the community. Erlendson has owned the Prince Albert Safeway store since 2016. It is the first Safeway store run as a franchise.
“This was the first Safeway that was franchised, right, so more than the manager I am the owner,” Erlendson said. “I always said in my career, you need to invest yourself in people and when you are a corporate manager you invest yourself in your staff.”
As a business owner, Erlendsen said his goal was to invest in that community and seize opportunities. He immediately set up a partnership with the Prince Albert Food Bank, and began supporting Isabelle Impey and the Prince Albert Community Christmas Dinner.
“The first year I gave them some turkeys and the then the next year I really got involved,” Erlendson remembered. “I cooked them. I secured all of the product for them.
“I just got really enamoured with that and then started getting involved with other (events), networking with people. Other people came and said, ‘hey could you help me, could you help us’ and it transitioned to helping the painters club at Carlton School, the youth there. Just wherever I could get involved in the community, I wanted to. I’m just such a believer in community and tried to have an emphasis on youth a little bit.”
Safeway also serves as the main corporate sponsor for the Heart of the Youth Powwow, another partnership that he treasures.
“That’s such a tremendous event to be a part of,” he said. “(I’m) so proud to be the corporate sponsor and involved with things like that.”
Erlendson is retiring from the Safeway as owner because the time was right.
“You have to look and you have to say, ‘how much longer do I want to be here?’” he explained. “There was an opportunity to leave this year, so that’s what I decided to do. It takes all of my energy to run my business.”
His last day is Aug. 6, which is also his birthday. So far he hasn’t decided what he wants to do next.
“I haven’t even tried to figure out what will happen when I leave Safeway,” Erlendson said. “We will just march down the road and seize whatever opportunities come in the fall.”
After his retirement, family from British Columbia will come to visit. Then, he wants to go on a cruise with his sister in September. A friend from Edmonton, where he lived before Prince Albert, wants to go on a vacation.
“There is some downtime coming and then we will go from there,” he explained.
Erlendson said that he will miss Safeway and the awesome team he has around him.
“We have generated excellent results. Things like fundraising in Western Canada—we are one of the top fundraising stores. Our cashiers enthusiastically ask our customers to donate to great causes and they do. These kinds of celebrations when you are successful like that, you are going to miss all of the relationships with people for sure.”
The mix of people at the farewell included friends, Safeway employees and other well-wishers from his church and other organizations.
“It’s just awesome and, from a mix of everybody, so it’s really cool. To see all of the smiles and all of the conversation taking place is just a real encouragement to me,” Erlendson said.
The Safeway location is going to return to being a corporate version until they can locate a new owner.
“It takes a lot to understand Safeway,” Erlendseon said. “We are a very complicated business, it doesn’t maybe seem that way to customers,”
He added that he’s enjoyed his time in Prince Albert, and is grateful for all the connections and partnerships he made.
“It’s a great community,” he said. “It’s been great. I’m so proud to have come to Prince Albert and I’m proud to have been such a part of a successful business and to be part of a great community. It’s a win win win win story.”
The emcee on Wednesday was Dr. Hannah Shenouda who read a statement from Mayor Greg Dionne extending best wishes to Erlendson and thanking him for the time and resources he invested in Prince Albert.
Pastor Mark Bergen of the Prince Albert Alliance Church brought greetings and George Whitrow spoke as a friend of Erlendsen.
Canadian Revival Centre Apostle Kevin Tabuchi brought a poem for Erlendson along with a gift. Safeway staff representative Brenda Korycki made a speech and brought another gift for Erlendson.
During her story of Erlendson’s life, Shenouda solicited some feedback from community partners Isabelle Impey and Kim Scruby of the Prince Albert Food Bank.
Scruby said that they value the relationship.
“Wes is a huge help to the food bank. When you look back to 2016 organizations like Safeway did not have much partnership with the Food Bank I n Prince Albert. We stepped up to the plate and Safeway is very kind to us,” she quoted him as saying.
“Oh my goodness. Wes is awesome he has cooked and donated turkeys for Community Dinner that has served 1000’s of meals on Christmas day in past years,” Impey said.
“Wes is very generous and he is always willing to help with any project for the community. Wes is very special. He takes an interest in what we are doing. Last December he worked with my team to secure the product for Christmas Hampers, donated some of the need, and helped us put together 174 hampers on December 23. He showed us how to use banana boxes and everything was assembled and delivered in one day. Smooth and efficient,” Impey added.