Oak Bay’s Food Forum closes after 37 years

Open on Christmas Day, the Estevan Village grocery had lovable quirks

After 37 years running the Food Forum on Cadboro Bay Road, Bill and Sharon Tam are now retiring.

The couple sold the family business, turnkey, to local business owner Lorne Campbell this week.

The door might be open, but the store is closed, as Campbell and company are busy clearing the building for renovations.

The Tams held Food Forum’s last day of business on Sunday, when they were surprised by a show of appreciation from regular customers in the community.

READ ALSO: Gardenworks time on Oak Bay Avenue winding down

“A few neighbours organized a surprise thank you to show their appreciation,” said Bill Tam, who is now 65 and in line to collect his old age security. “They had balloons and a card [signed by dozens]. It was quite nice.”

Both of the Tams daughters, Angela and Jasmine, now 26 and 28, worked in the store starting as 12 year olds. They returned on Sunday to celebrate.

“This was the store where a lot of Oak Bay youth had their first jobs,” Tam said. “Some of them are doctors, lawyers, and they started here.”

For Angela, Monday was the first time in her 26 years that the Food Forum wasn’t part of her life.

“We’ve lived in the same house down the block, and have walked that same 10-house stretch a million times over,” Angela said. “It was where my sister and I played tag through the aisles and where I got a lasting scar over my right eye for sliding into a cooler.”

Angela will always remember peaceful summer nights walking barefoot through the plant centre, watering the lush flowery oasis, she said.

“We learned to appreciate the ceaseless work of small business, and the importance of supporting local. It was where we knew the community.”

While there was a sign on the store since early August not everyone was aware the store was closing its doors.

Campbell and others are currently busy cleaning the store out. It will be renovated and reopen as The Old Farm Market, based on the Duncan store with the same name, which has been running for 30 years. Campbell bought that store two years ago.

“One guy came in through the unlocked door [Tuesday] and put food on the counter as if he was going to buy it, I had to say sorry,” Campbell said.

Campbell, who lives in North Saanich, hopes to open ahead of the winter holiday season.

Another shopper who stopped by on Tuesday to find it closed was Carol Dohan. She circled by to get milk, something she’s done as a regular shopper since she moved nearby in 2004.

“I will miss it, it’s an institution,” Dohan said. “I’m just glad it won’t become condos. It’s important to have a store within walking and bike riding distance.”

READ ALSO: Cordova Bay Plaza a ghost town, says last remaining store owner

Food Forum was also famous for being open on Christmas Day, Dohan said.

“Every year people were always there buying things they forgot, even turkeys, and I don’t know what people will do without it,” she said. “I think for some, people would come from miles away.”

While the lottery was a popular staple for the locals, the store was a perfect stop on the way to dinner parties. You could stop by on your way and bring a potted flower, and get a next bottle of wine next door, she said.

For the Tams, the weekend was one of mixed feelings. Most of the time they worked seven days a week.

“I’m glad to retire,” Bill Tam said. “We don’t know what we’ll do yet but will miss the people, the friendly customers, who supported us through many years. We’ll be happy. We will figure out what we’ll do soon.”

“It’s bittersweet for us to leave behind this constant entity,” Angela said. “My parents are finally gaining a freedom that was never afforded to them with opening and closing the store each day and night, 365 days of the year.”

And they’ll be around, as they will remain in their Oak Bay home, just a few houses down the street from the store.

reporter@oakbaynews.com


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