By Rowan Forster
Teary-eyed staffers clocked off for the final time at John Street’s iconic Woolworths store on Tuesday, marking the end of a 33-year relic in Pakenham.
Emotional scenes unfolded inside the supermarket as long-time workers and devoted customers embraced.
In a fitting farewell to the original “Safeway”, a mud cake was baked with the message: “Goodbye and farewell – thanks for the memories.”
For Heather Stephens, it was a devastating day.
Mrs Stephens has worked with Woolworths for 44 years – serving 12 of those at the John Street store – creating a lifetime of memories during her tenure.
She and colleague Jannette both asked to be redeployed at the Drouin store, not wanting to be separated.
“It was hard at first, but you can’t change things so you have to accept it,” she said.
“You walk around and you see the shelves half-empty – it’s just sad.
“You build up such a rapport with your customers and that’s who I’m really going to miss – and my work mates.
“It’s like family, coming to work here.”
She was among those who approached Woolworths to express her grievances over the store’s closure.
“I said to the area manager that I think they’ll regret this move because people like to pull up out the front, run in, grab what they want, and go,” she added.
“You can’t do that at the shopping centre.”
The Gazette first revealed the store’s impending closure in October, 2017.
The store has faced additional financial pressure in recent years, amid the arrival of German retail powerhouse Aldi.
The honour of cutting the farewell cake was bestowed to Val Vale, the supermarket’s most loyal customer.
Mrs Vale has been shopping at the John Street supermarket since it opened on 11 November, 1985.
The closure has left her lost and unsure of what to do next.
“I’ve been coming here since it was first built, the first day it opened,” she told the Gazette.
“The trouble is, I’m a chronic asthmatic, and I live behind here – this is my limit for how far I can walk.
“I can’t walk up to Marketplace – it’s just really terrible and I don’t quite know what to do.”
She was also displeased with the decision by executives to slash the store from the chain’s national line-up.
“They think it is progress but I think we’re going backwards,” Mrs Vale said.
“When the girls all came up to me teary eyed and told me the store would be closing, that was very difficult.”
The company’s flagship Pakenham store, Woolworths Marketplace, opened in 2011 as part of a 36 store shopping complex – injecting $70 million into the suburb.
However, the John Street store remains a favourite for many shoppers.
“I will miss coming here,” Norma Jackson said.
“It’s changed so much.
“I remember when it was just a tiny shop and Pakenham was a little town.”
The chain’s area manager said wat the time the closure was announced late last year that the John Street team were being accommodated across the region’s other stores.