A BUSY Omagh couple who spent almost 40 years serving the local community at their supermarket on Hospital Road felt the time was right to call it a day.
Wilbur and Evelyn McLean, who first took over the shop on Boxing Day 1979, have now retired and are looking forward to taking life at a slower pace.
The couple, who finished up on Saturday, have leased their premises to the Henderson Group, from Mallusk.
What was known as McLean’s Country Foodstore is now simply Spar Hospital Road. It will still close on Sundays.
Importantly for Wilbur and Evelyn, all their staff – over 40 full and part-time workers – have been kept on under the same terms and conditions.
Teamwork was always key to their success over the years.
Evelyn said, “We were part of the team. They worked with us.”
From humble beginnings, the McLeans significantly expanded their business during the last four decades.
Both Wilbur and Evelyn were teaching in Omagh, and living in Fintona, when the opportunity arose to take over the corner shop on Hospital Road owned at the time by Drew and Irene Noble.
Moving into the house adjoining their new premises, the couple soon settled into life in the retail industry.
Evelyn subsequently left her post teaching P1 at Gibson Primary School in the summer of 1981 to concentrate on the shop, while Wilbur continued working as a PE teacher at Omagh High School until 1999 – although he dedicated much of his spare time to helping their thriving business grow.
Over the years, the couple have employed hundreds of people from the Hospital Road community, many of them schoolchildren working part-time hours.
They have taken great delight in watching these young workers grow up and move on to successful careers across the globe.
Evelyn attributed the enduring popularity of their shop to creating a family-orientated and “homely” atmosphere with a warm welcome for all.
Wilbur also highlighted his wife’s willingness to innovate and try new products as another factor in their success.
“If you wanted something a little different, you could come here,” Evelyn said.
According to the couple, their shop was one of the first in Northern Ireland to have an in-store bakery.
There were several other significant changes made to their property as their business grew over the last 39 years.
In 1985, Wilbur and Evelyn demolished their house and rebuilt on the same site.
Then, in 1993, the late, great radio and TV personality, Gerry Anderson, arrived on the Hospital Road to open their expanded shop, now a small supermarket.
A further expansion of the premises was completed in 2004, while the couple also took the opportunity to demolish their house for a second time and build a new one close by.
On this occasion, BBC Radio Ulster’s ‘Wee Man from Strabane’, Hugo Duncan, did the honour.
There was also a cookery demonstration by Irish celebrity chef, Neven Maguire – a particular favourite of Evelyn’s.
Both Wilbur and Evelyn admitted that their last week in the shop had been “very emotional”, but they felt the time was right to call it a day.
During their final few days, a cake marking their retirement was on display in the store alongside a book which was filled with dozens of comments from well-wishers.
“We would like to thank all our customers, suppliers and staff. You don’t have a business without staff. You can’t do it all yourself,” they added.