Bruce Rock temporary grocery store lifts spirits

Cally DupeCountryman
Shire of Bruce Rock chief executive Darren Mollenoyux and Shire of Bruce Rock acting depty chief executive Melissa Schilling at the pop-up grocery store in Bruce Rock.
Camera IconShire of Bruce Rock chief executive Darren Mollenoyux and Shire of Bruce Rock acting depty chief executive Melissa Schilling at the pop-up grocery store in Bruce Rock. Credit: Strange Images Photography

The Bruce Rock community has rallied together to create a temporary supermarket after the town’s only grocery store was burned to the ground last month.

Locals, including farmers gearing up for seeding, were shocked when their only local supermarket was destroyed on March 26.

The blaze razed the town’s only grocery store, Masons Shopping Centre, and left residents facing a 100km round trip to Merredin for supplies. It placed stress on the local community at a time when stock was already low because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The fire at Masons Shopping Centre in Bruce Rock.
Camera IconThe fire at Masons Shopping Centre in Bruce Rock.

Two days later, Masons Shopping Centre co-owner Edward Mason appeared in court charged with burning down the store he ran with his brother.

Shocked and with a town in need of food, the Shire of Bruce Rock kicked into gear.

Leaving the community without a supermarket was not an option, especially with farmers gearing up to feed crews during the busy seeding season.

Asking residents to drive to Merredin or Perth, at a time when locals were bunkering down to minimise the risk of contracting COVID-19, was not a solution.

In just six days, the Shire of Bruce Rock and local volunteers created what Shire president Stephen Strange said would have normally “taken six weeks”.

Together, they created a central hub to sort through new food items and donations, which has now been labelled the temporary Bruce Rock Supermarket.

Mr Strange labelled the loss of the supermarket as the “biggest challenge Bruce Rock had to face in our lifetime”.

Camera IconCredit: What remained of Masons. Picture: Strange Images

“We lost our one and only supermarket, so decisions had to be made very quickly ... the Shire took the lead because we were in the best place to do that,” he said.

“We just didn’t want people driving to other towns, at a time when they could get sick ... but the local businesses in other towns were very supportive as well.

“It was absolutely paramount to set up a local business as soon as we could, because of coronavirus, and also because there are a lot of people in Bruce Rock without transport.

“By taking the lead it reassured people that something was happening locally, and the district really came together.”

The decimated Masons Shopping Centre in Bruce Rock.
Camera IconThe decimated Masons Shopping Centre in Bruce Rock. Credit: Strange Images Photography

The temporary store is at the Shire Hall on Johnson Street and provides essential grocery items as a click and collect service.

The nearby Bruce Rock Meats is selling milk and bread alongside its usual meat product lines.

Bruce Rock Supermarket customers can place orders via email, phone or by placing a slip of paper in a box outside the hall and then pick up their items at a later date.

The Shire is overseeing the Bruce Rock Supermarket and has employed manager and former Masons staff to run the store.

Shire of Bruce Rock chief executive Darren Mollenoyux said the community had been overwhelmed with the kindness of suppliers.

Two days after the blaze, a Wanneroo market gardener donated and co-ordinated freight for about a tonne of vegetables which arrived in Bruce Rock on Friday.

With strict packing protocols, the produce was delivered door-to-door for townspeople while local farmers were sent a text message and asked to pick up their allocation.

“Two good things came out of that,” Mr Strange said.

“People knew something was happening and could at least make something with vegetables, and in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the people living by themselves and the elderly were reassured they weren’t alone in this.”

Three days after the blaze, a South West Freight Lines truck laden with produce donated by Woolworths rolled into Bruce Rock at about 7pm on Saturday night.

Volunteers unloaded and stored the produce in fridges and freezers supplied by locals and neighbouring shires, and a 40-foot-long sea container coolroom donated by Great Southern Fuels.

Mr Strange said the Mason family was “very keen to rebuild” and had provided “fantastic support” to the community, helping to co-ordinate the milk and bread supply to Bruce Rock Butchers and helped the Shire set up a temporary account with grocery wholesalers Metcash — the wholesalers that had supplied Mason’s Shopping Centre.

“This Shire shop is just a temporary solution,” he said.

“Existing Mason’s Shopping Centre employees have taken up the running of the shop under the guidance of a former, long-time employee of the Mason family.

“It has been a smooth transition because the staff know what to do.”

Mr Strange said while the Shire expected to make a loss operating the store, because it was paying for staff wages, the set up, bills, and taking any income, it had “made a decision” to cop the loss to benefit the community.

He said it had been one of the most emotional times the community had ever endured, and it was “hard to find the words to say” how much everyone had rallied together.

“I am so proud of everyone... when you are making decisions every hour that have an effect on the community, everyone backed us,” Mr Strange said.

“It was six weeks work in six days, and here we are.”

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