Surviving Challenging Times

Owner operator Carmen Cornelius talks with one
of his many employees at his Big Way Store .

Story by Patricia Merrick
Photos by Kurtis Kristianson

Running a small business in the midst of a large infrastructure project causing nearby road closures, as well as a pandemic forcing people to stay home, is a challenge Carmen Cornelius never expected to face.

The owner of Carmen’s Bigway Foods – Crossfield's only grocery store – has been running the business for 15 years and said there are already challenges that come with running a small business in a small town.

“We’re pretty close to Airdrie and there’s the big supermarkets and the big centres there. They dictate a lot of price and people obviously like to shop price and buy in big volumes,” Cornelius said. “We’re kind of here to offer the secondary shop if they don’t want to go there. If they want to grab a bit instead of buying a whole bunch, we’re here for them.”

Even with the challenges he faced in the last year, Cornelius said his business has survived better than he thought it would. The Town's multi-million-dollar infrastructure project to redevelop downtown caused road closures surrounding his business, but entranceways into the parking lot were always made available, he said.

The project on Railway Street included an upgrade to ageing infrastructure – specifically, 60-year-old sewer and wastewater pipes. The project also included revitalizing streetscapes by adding landscaping, benches, enhanced lighting and widened sidewalks for residents and tourists to gather and visit.

“People have been great in supporting us. I’ve had no complaints. I mean there’s been a few hiccups but nothing what I expected,” Cornelius said. “It’s more about the people in town just trying to figure out which block they need to come down.”

He said he doesn’t believe the project has deterred people from shopping at Carmen’s Bigway Foods and said the COVID-19 pandemic actually helped the business because people opted to shop locally instead of heading into the city and waiting in lineups.

“We found that a lot of our customers don’t want to go stand in line in the bigger centres and bigger supermarkets so they’ve come here,” he said. 

The business owner said even with the inconvenience of road closures, he was in favour of the Town's downtown project.

“I think it’s going to encourage a lot of people to walk," he said. "It’s been a year of crazy but I’m looking forward to it being [completely] done.”

Cornelius has lived in Crossfield for 25 years and ran a butcher shop for 10 years before opening Carmen’s Bigway Foods.

“It was a great opportunity to come to a small town that was starting to grow and I took a chance,” he said. “I like the small-town charm. You get to know everybody. You’re not just a number like you are in the city.”

He also supports several community initiatives and often raises money to donate to local organizations. Whether it’s hosting barbecues for community events or donating funds to graduation festivities at W.G. Murdoch School, Cornelius is happy to support the community any way he can.

He grew a moustache in November 2020 and raised approximately $800 for Movember – an annual worldwide event to raise money and awareness for men’s health and prostate cancer. 

He also sits on the Town’s economic development board and donates money to the fire department's annual Crossfield Christmas Emergency Food Hamper Program each year. Donations are collected for the program at Carmen’s Bigway Foods in December and Cornelius matches every dollar donated on one day of the month called Giving Tuesday.

“I’ve supported countless organizations with funding for stuff and product for stuff,” Cornelius said. “I’m a small-town guy. If we don’t support each other – if we don’t support organizations – people drive out of town. We have to have something for our kids to do. There’s all kinds of reasons why you give in town.”