The historic convenience store adapts to its times

By KENDALL KING, Local Journalism Initiative reporter on February 24, 2022.

Hat News and Specialty Market has been serving Medicine Hat for over 40 years and despite recent changes in store design and inventory, still provides customers with all the essentials plus unique extras it has always been good at. known.–NEWS PHOTO KENDALL KING

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Big changes have taken place at Hat News and Specialty Market over the past year, as co-owners Ryan Weiland and Kirby Eresman have worked to reconfigure the interior of the store – giving it more of a market feel – and have introduces new products, such as gluten-free snacks, vegetarian meal kits, locally made frozen dinners and baked goods, artisanal glassware, plants and more.

“We’ve been here for so many years,” Weiland told The News. “We’ve always been this step for people, but now I really want to provide more options.”

While many traditional convenience store products can still be found at Hat News, such as chips, slushies, newspapers, and cigarettes, customers may know to find Canadian-grown potted fresh orchids, specialty vapes, handmade ice cream and farmed meats from Weiland.

“We’re still offering all the products that we did before, so we just incorporated some new stuff,” Weiland said.

The redesign is an effort to meet changing market demands and a personal interest on the part of Weiland and Eresman to introduce something new and inviting to the community.

“Hat News has always been different. We’re kind of proud of that,” Eresman said. “This rebranding was about how to stay different and relevant.”

Hat News was once known for its wide variety of flavored tobaccos, cigars and vapes, but Weiland and Eresman say the rise of vape shops and dispensaries has made the product more widely available and attracted customers.

“What made us different isn’t so different anymore,” Eresman said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further complicated business by disrupting and causing delays in global supply chains.

Weiland began to think of ways to avoid such problems and took inspiration from other small community stores in cities like Calgary.

“It’s about saving our local convenience stores,” he said.

Weiland designed the store around his own tastes, filling the shelves with products he considers to be quality at an affordable price.

“Those are all the things I like to eat,” Weiland said. “I tried 75% of it before I brought it, which makes a big difference… If I don’t like it, I just don’t sell it.”

As he walks through the store, Weiland points to some of his favorite products, including Hal’s New York Kettle crisps, Redcliff Bakery bars, gemstones and fresh cut flowers.

Eresman agrees that the changes reflect the desires of modern consumers.

“Just because it’s a convenience store doesn’t mean it has to be typical convenience store products,” he said. “It’s a leap (but) people love it. They walk into the store and (say) ‘Wow! It looks so good here.

Weiland is also pleased with the feedback he has received from customers.

“When I was here last week…a regular said to me, ‘I could buy a few more packs of cigarettes when I come, but I don’t. I buy a package. I walk here every day (and) look at the plants because they make me feel better, then walk home. These are the things that I really like about this change. (Customers) can come in and they can find something they like at a decent price,” Weiland said. “It’s little things like that that mean a lot.”

As Weiland and Eresman continue to add finishing touches to the store, they hope Hatters will stop.

“I want everyone to enjoy it,” Weiland said. “No matter how old you are, there’s something for everyone, so…it’s something people should check out.”