A Century of Memories

Willows Park Grocery centennial to be marked with block party Saturday

Willows Park Grocery former owner Quon Lowe

You only get one chance to celebrate your 100th birthday, and Neil McDonald doesn’t plan to miss the opportunity.

His store, Willows Park Grocery, has been an Oak Bay fixture for a century. To mark the occasion, McDonald has planned a barbecue and block party for tomorrow (June 25).

Though much has changed since it first opened, the store remains a community staple. A big reason is the lasting influence of the previous owner, Quon Lowe.

Lowe purchased the store in 1963 from a cousin, and though he sold it to McDonald four years ago, he continues to work in the store where he raised his family.

“I love serving people and I’ve grown up with the community,” Lowe said. “I see kids who used to come here when they were in kindergarten who are now married.”

Nearly every customer who enters the store greets Lowe by name.

“I’ve been coming here since the ’60s,” said Dave Stinson, who stopped in with his daughter, Robin, to pick up some ice cream.

Willows Park Grocery, at the corner of Eastdowne Road and Dalhousie Street, is said to be the oldest grocery store in Oak Bay still standing in its original location.

In fact, the store has existed longer than the streets on which it stands.

According to the Oak Bay archives, a 1918 phonebook lists its location as being at the corner of Willows and Thistle streets.

There have been changes to both the interior and exterior. Where Lowe’s kitchen once stood is an area where McDonald now roasts organic, fair trade coffee beans. Lowe’s living room has been replaced by a walk-in cooler.

For McDonald, who only learned of the building’s historical importance after he became its owner, it can be a struggle to compete against bigger grocery stores in the area. But it’s important to him to show that more traditional business models can still be viable.

“I’m trying to revitalize the old way of doing business,” he said.

“The hardest part is to get people to turn to us as their primary grocery store.”

In addition to installing the coffee roasting setup, McDonald now also brings in local organic produce, mostly from Sun Wing Farms. He maintains competitive pricing in an attempt to entice locals to stop at his store for more than just coffee and lottery tickets.

The Oak Bay Heritage Society recently recognized McDonald’s efforts with an award for improving the building while maintaining its historical and social value.

Lowe welcomes the changes. “We had to try new things to keep open.”

The 100th birthday celebration barbecue happens from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, followed by a block party on Dalhousie Street, between Eastdowne and Cadboro Bay roads from 2 until 9 p.m.

editor@oakbaynews.com

Just Posted

Victoria woman accesses healing Burn Fund resources 45 years after injury

Stasi Manser was burned when she was five years old and now works as an adult burn survivor advocate

PRIDE on the Barge caps off last Friday of Pride Month

Starting at 5 p.m. with music from Rocksteady

Local grocery store steps up to help resident after Saanich jams her stand

Pepper’s Foods will start selling jams previously sold through roadside stand

Last remaining Victoria Legion faces $100,000 property tax bill

The Trafalgar/ Pro Patria Branch can’t afford to operate with such high taxes

Island Health issues safer drug-use tips ahead of music festival season

Health authority aims to reduce overdose risks at festivals

VIDEO: Killer whale steals fisherman’s catch off North Coast

Fishing duel results in eager orca snagging salmon in Prince Rupert

POLL: Do you think the penalty should be increased for tossing a burning cigarette from a vehicle?

With grasslands and forests around Vancouver Island and across B.C. reaching tinder… Continue reading

Greater Victoria wanted list for the week of June 25

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

PHOTOS: North Island home gutted in fire deemed ‘suspicious’

No injuries reported; firefighters prevented blaze from spreading

Child killed after being hit in driveway on Vancouver Island

The driver of the vehicle remained at the crash scene and is fully cooperating

Eating sandwiches, putting on makeup behind the wheel could land you a fine

RCMP say if you cause an accident while eating you could be penalized

Delta cat severely injured in animal trap was likely stuck for days, owner says

Blu, a three-year-old house cat, suffered severe damage to his hind leg after being stuck in trap for days

Vancouver Island woman assaulted after confronting thief

RCMP warn residents to call for police assistance

40 cats surrendered in apparent hoarding at B.C. home

Officers found the cats living among piles of garbage and feces, suffering from fleas

Most Read