Country Snacks Embarks on Exciting Expansion

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Howard and Mary Enns alongside Country Snacks owners Pete and Rose Friesen. Brenda Sawatzky

Country Snacks, partnered with Red River Co-op, is set to embark on some real changes over the course of this coming summer—changes that will see the addition of six new gas pumps, a new entry and egress loop, and an outdoor attached patio for their customers’ enjoyment.

On April 3, owners Pete and Rose Friesen appeared before council for a conditional use hearing to rezone their Main Street properties in preparation for the substantial upgrade. Council passed the motion unanimously, subject to compliance with a formal development agreement.

“I am very excited,” says Rose. “You have no idea how long we’ve waited for this. It’s a dream coming to reality. We’ve had a lot of dreams over the years, but this is pretty great because, when you’re independent, it’s a long process to get [to the place] where you can [afford to] do this. But to have the support of the community, we feel so blessed.”

This new expansion will see the demolition of the building at 166 Main Street, the former location of Niverville Chiropractic and the Growing Minds daycare. The existing gas pumps in front of the building will be removed and a contemporary six-pump, six-lane island will be installed in the area of the demolition. This will result in 12 new filling stations, covered with an overhead canopy illuminated by LED lighting.

In an effort to reduce congestion and improve safety for pedestrian traffic, the current egress on Fourth Avenue South will be closed off. A new access will be added on the west end of the 166 Main Street property, forming a loop that will connect to the current Main Street entry. 

“Once we take that traffic away from the front of the building, it’s going to alleviate a lot of the congestion out front with the crosswalk,” says Pete. “It will completely change the direction of traffic.”

In place of the old gas pumps, a large patio is set to be constructed, including picnic tables to encourage ice cream and pizza-lovers to enjoy the Manitoba summer outdoors. Apart from the patio, no big changes are anticipated for the convenience store right now. In recent years the building’s interior and exterior has undergone massive renovations, making way for Peppie’s Pizza, an indoor dining area with a fireplace, and a grocery and deli meat section.

Pedestrian traffic, the couple agrees, comprises a large portion of their clientele. Situated just blocks from both schools and at the core of Main Street’s business district, Country Snacks is perfectly located to accommodate young people and teachers on lunch breaks, as well as families going for an afternoon stroll for an ice cream treat.

“We have a lot of walk-in traffic,” Pete says. “We had discussed [expanding] out of town, because we’d have a lot more space. We’d have all those things, but it would take away that walk-up traffic.”

By May, residents should begin to see new things happening on the joined sites. The Friesens have offered up the use of the empty building at 166 Main to local firefighters for training and drills until its demolition. Eventually, the building will come down and the underground tanks will be removed for inspection and reinstallation. The Friesens will continue to work out the details of contracting and sign placement.

Family Legacy

Rose Friesen comes from a long line of entrepreneurs responsible for building Niverville’s business community. Both of her grandfathers were thriving businessmen here.

J.S. Wiens owned and operated the Red and White Store, where Piston Ring and Niverville Pharmacy are located today. He was the first Niverville businessman to introduce ice cream and candy bars to the lucky residents of the community. Stories have been told of his regular trips to Winnipeg, stocking up on delectable supplies and storing the ice cream in an icehouse near the store. It was a laborious ordeal. He chopped big blocks of ice from the Red River and transported them to a hole beneath the icehouse where beds of sawdust helped slow the melting.

Her other grandfather, John Enns, built and operated a John Deere and Pontiac dealership with an Esso gas station across the street. Eventually, Rose’s father Howard started his own business in the location where Country Snacks sits today. It began as a Case dealership and Texaco station, and in time evolved to a Ski-Doo dealership and Shell station.

Rose remembers growing up and spending much of her time there, helping her father in the business. In the same building, her mother managed a hair salon and sold crafts and fabrics.

“Our family history is a very big part of this place,” says Friesen. “Our kids all grew up here and worked here.”

In the mid-1990, Rose succeeded her father in business. Buoyed by a start-up loan from her grandfather, Rose and Pete began the journey to their own business success story, creating changes as the years and demands required. In honour of her Grandpa Wiens’s legacy, Country Snacks has made a name for itself by serving some of the best soft ice cream in Manitoba.

“People see the [brand] Red River Co-op, but we are independent,” says Friesen. “We are fiercely independent.”

And while their independence as business owners allows them to make corporate decisions easily and without interference, it also allows them to give back to the community that supports them. The Friesens have been long-time supporters of the school lunch programs and other community fundraising endeavours, as well as providing the perfect opportunity for local youth to break into their first job experiences.

In their 20-plus years in business, hundreds of young employees who trained under the Friesens’ customer service model have gone on to build careers or become entrepreneurs in their own right.

“Our greatest asset is people,” says Pete. “The success of this business is just a byproduct of everything else. If we don’t have the people who work for us, or the customers [to support us], there is no business.”

“It’s awesome,” agrees Rose. “Employing young people is our greatest gift back to the community.”

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