Former employees of Benalla’s SSW Supermarket were delighted to meet last week for a reunion at St Joseph’s Hall, 19 years after the store was sold.
In 1971 the business was established in Carrier St and at the time was considered a modern supermarket, selling soft drink cans for 9¢, baked beans for 11¢ and ice-cream for 47¢, all bargains by today’s prices.
The store had many ups and downs, including being hit hard by the floods of 1993, moving to automated bar-code scanning, and undergoing several name changes.
Being one of the first shops in Benalla to offer groceries, fruit and veg, and liquor, the store was a major employer in the town and popular among residents, with its one-stop-shop set up.
Lex and Bernadette Robertson were the owners of SSW, they were shocked at how many people were interested in the reunion.
‘‘I went down to the shed where we keep the old files and found 550 names, of those 95 attended,’’ Mrs Robertson said.
‘‘We had people come from Gippsland, Adelaide, Queensland... they came from across the country.
‘‘There was one man, the fruit and veg manager, his wife had booked him on a cruise, he got the invitation and he declined the cruise and came to the reunion, his wife had to go on her own.’’
SSW had been a family business and Mr Robertson was manager from the time he moved to Benalla in 1984.
‘‘We enjoyed running the supermarket, but as the years moved on it was just getting harder to run a supermarket as an independent, the growth had gone because the chains got stronger,’’ Mr Robertson said.
‘‘Woolworths weren’t here at the time, it was only Coles, but they were getting on top of their game pretty well.
‘‘They had better buying power than us, so we were starting behind the eight-ball straight up.
‘‘And we believed that customer service was a high priority, so we employed more staff than them.
‘‘So with a higher cost of goods and a higher cost of staff the margins were fairly small. Eventually we made the decision to sell.’’
From the day the doors opened the store faced an ever-changing business environment, which saw the rise of the big two supermarkets in Australia, Coles and Woolworths.
Despite resisting buy-out offers throughout the ’90s the decision was only made to sell the store on the premise that employees would be offered continued employment with the new buyer.
That buyer was Bi-Lo, which was owned by Coles, and Coles still operate a supermarket on the site today.