Italian Centre targets Saskatchewan and even dreams of B.C.

· The Pulse

As Teresa Spinelli eyes further expansion within Calgary by next fall for the growing assembly of Italian Centre Shop locations, she's also looking beyond Alberta to new store possibilities in Saskatoon and even Victoria.

"We just signed a deal for our second store in Calgary," Spinelli, president of the company, told Taproot. "Hopefully we'll do a third store in Calgary, but I think Saskatoon will come before the third (Calgary) store because Calgary is such a tough market to find space in."

Spinelli said the second Calgary store, set to be located in the northwest quadrant of the city, took eight years to find space for. Edmonton has nearly twice as much commercial retail space as Calgary, she said, adding the types of spaces are different, too. "There's lots of places (in Calgary) that are 4,000 square feet or 3,000 square feet, but we need at least 20,000 square feet," she said.

Spinelli and her company launched the Italian Centre in Calgary's Willow Park in 2015.

She said her deal with a Calgary developer includes an October 2025 possession date, but both sides are working to make it happen sooner. Once that's locked down, she said she will be working towards opening the first Italian Centre Shop outside Alberta — in Saskatoon.

"In Saskatoon, I think you're pretty good no matter where you are (located)," Spinelli said. "There's easy access, and it's growing quick, quick, quickly. We found a place that's filed for bankruptcy, so we're looking at a spot that's a perfect size for us. We're just waiting (to hear back from) our developers."

Spinelli said part of the idea for eastward expansion came from "really smart" Saskatoon customers who've visited her Edmonton shop for years and asked her for their own store. The other part is the city's growing culinary pedigree, she said. "I've seen that the food scene is really growing there."

Frank Spinelli, Teresa's father, founded the Italian Centre in 1959. Teresa took over in 2001. Since then, she's grown the grocery retailer from just one location in Edmonton's Little Italy to five, including one on Edmonton's south side, one in Edmonton's west end, one in Sherwood Park, and the aforementioned Calgary outpost.

A person wearing a blazer and glasses sits at a café table with a blurred mural in the background.

The Italian Centre Shop's president, Teresa Spinelli, said she's sealed the deal on a new location in Calgary and is looking at further expansion for the business in Saskatchewan and even B.C. (Supplied/John Ulan)

Spinelli said customers and vendors want easy access to stores, such as street-level parking. But residential density is also important because a vibrant community is central to her business model's success. "We're a small company, so we really can't go somewhere where there's no rooftops," she said. "We have to already have houses built and people in the area because we really feel that we are community-driven."

Spinelli said that remaining a community-based business and keeping the quality high means she's not interested in franchising her shop. She and her team want to stay at the reins, and franchising is logistically difficult because of the way importing directly dall'Italia works.

"We have to bring in container loads from Italy, but we can only bring them in in the spring and in the fall … We have to carry that inventory for a whole year, which is a big expense to a company — and to a franchisee," she said. "Even pasta bags, for example, if we bring them in the winter, they would crack."

Customers who visit the existing Italian Centre locations expect a certain degree of quality, and often reach out to ask for the same in their hometowns, Spinelli said. In a recent story for Retail Insider, she mentioned Grande Prairie and Victoria as areas of interest for new locations, based on customer demand, though she told Taproot that expansions to those cities are only at the idea stage.

Beyond expansion, Spinelli's next milestone is induction into the JA Northern Alberta Business Hall of Fame on June 12 at the Edmonton Convention Centre.

Spinelli remains pragmatic as she continues to grow her business. "We don't want to open stores just open stores," she said. "It has to be sustainable. It has to be profitable."