Behind the counter

Forty three years on Main Street, Alberton for Jerry Saunders

Way Up West | by Jan Cox

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Saunders Variety on Alberton’s Main Street recently celebrated its 43rd anniversary. I sat down with owner, Jerry Saunders, to find out about the man himself.

“I started working at Myricks Store, just on the corner of Main St, when I was eight,” Jerry chuckled. “I earned five dollars a week.” And with that first job, came Jerry’s love of retail.

“I packed groceries, stocked shelves and carried the groceries to the car. Not like now. When I was a little older, I had two paper routes and cut grass for others, all over the place,” he said. At 15, he quit school and went to work at Myricks full time for $28 weekly. He left the store in 1964 to work for Coca Cola, delivering Coke from Miscouche. There are a few around who still call him “Jerry Coke.” After 10 years of being on the road, he opened an independent convenience store on Main St. In 1977 he moved across the street and opened Saunders Variety. His brother ran the first store until 1997.

Jerry told me, “I tried everything [product] trying to make a go of it. I was getting more into clothing and footwear and gradually started going toward brand names. I went with what was working. Basic stuff for the farmers and fishermen, the whole family, with a little bit of fashion too!”

Now, 43 years later, Saunders Variety attracts customers from across the Island. “We have our once a year shoppers from Charlottetown. They come up here, get what they need in clothing and footwear for the season. Make a day of it. It’s a ritual.” he said.

Jerry’s real passion, what still gives him a thrill, is attending the retail shows. “The shows have changed, he said. “There’s so much online stuff now, especially with COVID. But I want to look at the product. I want to feel it. I see some of the same salespeople I have for years. And some of the same retailers. After all these years, I still get hyped up before the shows. I can feel that drive inside me every time we head out to a show.”

What contributes to Saunders Variety’s longevity? “Knowing my customers needs and my staff. Customer service. If it wasn’t for the good staff I have now, and have had over the years, we wouldn’t be where we are today. And yes, yes, my family. Their support has been great. I train my staff to put themselves on the other side of the counter. I don’t care if I lose a sale. I tell them, don’t tell a customer they look terrific or that fits so well, if it doesn’t.”

Is retirement in the future for Jerry Saunders? “I have no desire to quit. I love coming to work every day. A fella was in here the other day and said to me, ‘Say, I’ve been coming here 30 years. How long have you been here?’ That’s what it’s like. This is all I’ve ever done all my life, it’s what I know.”

Thanks Jerry, for your years of service to the community. Happy anniversary!

Jan CoxWay Up West
Jan Cox

My partner and I moved to the island from Ottawa in August 2003. We quickly became avid fans of "The Buzz". I would search out the monthly read at the liquor stores of West Prince! I retired in June 2015 and found myself one afternoon, on a weekday no less, outside The Buzz office in Charlottetown. I met Peter and the gang and after singing the praises of the publication, suggested they needed a voice from West of Summerside. Me and my big mouth - three years later I am still writing "Way Up West" every month and it has been a joy. It's a win win - I get to work with a wonderful group of people at The Buzz and I am thrilled to be meeting folks from up west and area.