The Mondragon cafe and bookstore, Winnipeg’s anarchist icon, will close in one week, ending an 18-year run of lefty politics, co-operative management and southern fried tofu.
"We’ve had a rough year, a rough couple of years, financially," said Cora Wiens, one of Mondragon’s remaining workers. "I think a lot of people are really sad about it and are now realizing what this place has meant."
A series of slow changes conspired against the Exchange District institution. Everyday costs increased, foot traffic declined and competition from new restaurants and coffee shops in the area is on the rise. Mondragon’s alternative bookstore, which traditionally bolstered the cafe’s bottom line, also saw shrinking sales, as bookstores across the continent have.
And where once the co-op had a dozen members to share the work, now only five remain. The five have been talking seriously about closing all month, and Jan. 26 will be the business's last day.
This week, all books will be 66 per cent off.
Mondragon was Winnipeg’s best-known non-hierarchical collective, where staff were equal, did all the jobs and no one was the boss.
Asked if the worker-run model contributed to the venue’s demise, staff said no.
"Eighteen years is a long time for a business," said Merrill Grant, one of the five remaining members.
"For any restaurant, no matter how it’s run," added Weins.
Mondragon is key among several businesses and activist groups, such as Natural Cycle and the Boreal Forest Network, that share space in the historic building known as the Albert St. Autonomous Zone Co-op. It’s not clear yet how the restaurant’s closure will affect the co-op’s ability to sustain itself, or who might take over the space.
Mondragon’s remaining members hope to have pop-up events at other venues throughout the year, featuring politics and some of the café’s best-known dishes, such as the southern fried tofu.