A significant era came to an end in downtown Ucluelet last month as Billy and Sue Payne sold their bustling Murray’s Grocery store after 24 years of exemplary customer service and stalwart community engagement.
The Peninsula Road convenience store has welcomed shoppers since 1970 and was opened by Billy’s uncle Murray.
“It was a really small store. He had milk, eggs, canned goods, that kind of thing,” Billy recalled.
Murray’s changed hands several times over the years while keeping its founder’s name on the masthead.
Billy grew up next door with his parents Roy and Agnes Payne who adopted him in Burnaby when he was 16 months old and he became Murray’s fifth owner after purchasing it from Riley and Shirley Varns in 1996.
“I had just gotten out of carpentry school, finished my fourth year apprenticeship, and I came over to Riley to ask him if he could help me start a roofing business and he told me, ‘Hey, why don’t you buy the store,’” Billy recalled. “So, I went over and talked to my mom and mom says, ‘Yeah, let’s do that’. We bought it off of Riley and started in 1996 and it was the best thing ever after that. It was nice to have it back in the family.”
With his previous work experience focused around logging, fishing and carpentry, Billy said he quickly discovered the retail business was more work than he’d expected, but also more rewarding.
“I figured out how much work it was and how much time it was, but also how exciting it was talking to people and serving people and just having conversations,” he said. “I enjoyed talking to people, I enjoyed helping people and it went from there. It just became what it was.”
Billy, who was recognized with Ucluelet’s Volunteer of the Year Award in 2013, also found himself propelled into community service through the connections and friendships formed at Murray’s and the store became an unceasing beacon at community events and fundraisers.
“It was a really good sense of community, that’s what I liked about it,” he said. “You get a bond there. It’s really cool.”
Billy’s wife Sue said she’ll miss the community comradery that filled the store and the staff that helped shape the experience.
“We have opened up in the middle of the night for frantic moms who needed baby Tylenol because their kids were teething or whatever, or opening up on Christmas day because people needed bacon and eggs. We’re part of the community,” she said. “We’ve had great, great staff over this last 24 years. We’ve employed just about everybody’s kid at one point or another and you get to know them and how cool they are, train them a little bit and send them off to their future.”
She added the business became a hub for the community and moving on will be “bittersweet.”
“Thanks to the community for supporting us for so long and allowing us to be part of the community and supporting the business,” she said.
With five kids living in communities across Vancouver Island and a seventh grandchild on the way, Billy said he’s ready to move on and excited to spend more time with his family.
“I’ve been here 24 years. I grew up next door. I’ll turn 55 this year. It’s time for a change because I’ve been here long enough and I’d like to go see my grandkids more and I’d like to do more travelling with my wife and have a little bit more freedom,” he said.
He added that he’s not ready for retirement and plans instead to resuscitate the carpentry career he’d mapped out before buying Murray’s.
“It’s a new chapter,” he said. “There’s no hesitation. I want to go. I want to move on. I don’t know what to expect in the future, so there’s a little bit of, ‘Okay, what am I going to do now?’ I won’t retire. I will work and since I’m a ticketed carpenter. I’ll probably go into that field.”
He said the Ucluelet community has been “impeccable” to him and his family throughout the years.
“When I need help, all I need to do is ask and the whole community is here,” he said. “This community is just unbelievable. I thank the community for supporting my family and our business for the last 24 years. That is huge.”
He declined to disclose the sale price, but said he was happy to hand the store’s keys over local Ucluetian Alison Dahlie.
“She is going to bring in new energy and an asset to downtown Ucluelet. I’m very excited about that,” he said.
“When we put it up for sale, we were really worried that it would change drastically and it wouldn’t be the community hub that it is,” she said. “Having somebody local that knows everybody means it’s still going to be that little corner grocery that everybody runs to when they need something late at night; they’ll still know everybody’s name and people will still feel welcome at Murray’s, always.”
Dahlie, a mother of three who has lived in Ucluelet for ten years, is now officially the sixth owner of Murray’s and told the Westerly News that she is excited for the opportunity.
“Billy has been helping a lot with training and I appreciate it,” Dahlie said. “He wants to see me succeed and I want to thank him for that because that’s pretty awesome.”
She said she plans to operate Murray’s through the summer before making any changes.
“I have about 100 ideas,” she said. “There’s a lot of great things that are being done and that have been done, so I want to learn and take what is working and continue with that. I’ll obviously do a facelift, bring in some new product and diversify a bit more…This is such a solid property and solid building and there’s so much room and so much potential for new ideas and new things coming in.”
She said she has not finalized any plans for a name change at Murray’s, but absolutely plans to continue the store’s legacy of community involvement and is eyeing a shift towards more locally made products.
“I want to use this store as an opportunity to showcase local people, local makers, support local families and, in turn, support my own and my kids’ futures,” she said.
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