Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Stores no longer viable: Loblaw

No decision yet on future of two Extra Foods sites

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Two Extra Foods stores -- one in Winnipeg's North End and one in Steinbach -- are closing because they are no longer economically viable, a senior official with the company's parent company said Monday.

"In both cases, the decision to close the store was not taken lightly," Julija Hunter, vice-president of public relations for Loblaw Companies Ltd., said in an interview.

Hunter said Loblaw hasn't decided what it will do with the two properties after the stores close, and she couldn't say when a decision will be made. She also wouldn't comment on what options are being considered.

In other provinces, Loblaw has closed Extra Foods stores and replaced them with one of its other discount supermarket brands, called No Frills. Although No Frills stores sell Loblaw's No-Name and President's Choice products, the outlets are owned and operated by franchisees rather than Loblaw or one of its subsidiaries. However, the president of the union representing unionized Loblaw employees in Manitoba said it would need the union's permission to do that. And no such request has been received, said Jeff Traeger, president of Local 832 of the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

Traeger said union approval is required under the provisions of a province-wide collective bargaining agreement the union has with Loblaw's Westfair Foods division, which operates its Extra Foods and Real Canadian Superstore outlets in Manitoba. He said Manitoba is the only province where a provincewide agreement exists.

Traeger said the union and Extra Foods employees were informed of the store closures on Friday. The company said the Steinbach store will close on Feb. 23 and the Winnipeg store on March 23.

The news comes just two months after the company closed its Extra Foods store at 600 Notre Dame Ave. in Winnipeg.

It still has eight other Extra Foods stores in the province -- four in Winnipeg and one each in Selkirk, Dauphin, Swan River and The Pas. Hunter said there are no plans to close them.

"It will be business as usual for all of them."

Traeger said the union expects most of the nearly 80 unionized workers at two doomed outlets will be offered jobs at other local Westfair Foods stores. In the case of the 37 Steinbach workers, it would be in the Real Canadian Superstore outlet in Steinbach, he said. And in the case of the approximately 40 Winnipeg workers, it would be at other Extra Foods outlets in the city.

Hunter confirmed Extra Foods is hoping to place the workers in other jobs within its operations.

But she couldn't say if it will find positions for all of them.

Longtime customers of the Main and Luxton outlet said they're surprised and angry it's closing. They said it always seemed to be busy, and the closure will be a blow to the many low-income families who regularly shop there.

"It seriously adds to the food desert in the inner city," area retiree Rowena Fisher said Monday.

Although there is a Canada Safeway store next door, Fisher said, "they compete on service, not price."

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 29, 2013 B6

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