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Stonewall’s retail renaissance

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When a couple of successful small-town businessmen decide to invest millions in a real estate development in their own community, it’s bound to be good news for that town.
That’s the feeling in Stonewall these days surrounding the $5-million Centennial Plaza development — the town’s first new retail development in several years.
Dave Kalnuk, owner of the Stonewall Family Foods grocery store, and Marty Sexton, owner of Interlake Pharmacy, have partnered up in the new 24,000-square-foot development on Third Avenue.
In addition to a new Family Foods — which will be about twice the size of the current one — and Interlake Pharmacy, the development also includes a 2,000- square-foot medical clinic.
Dr. Graham Kerr has already moved his practice to Stonewall from Teulon and is recruiting one or two other doctors to join the clinic.
Kalnuk and Sexton have risked significant dollars to build new premises and move their successful Stonewall businesses just a few blocks away.
"The planets started to line up," said Kalnuk referring to how the project came together in the town, which is 25 kilometres north of Winnipeg.
Not that it takes planets to align for new commercial real estate development to occur in small-town Manitoba — but just about.
A few years ago, Photography by Carmen built new space on Main Street. Prior to that, it had been almost a decade since any new commercial space was built in Stonewall.
Stonewall Mayor Ross Thompson said building permit totals are triple where they were last year at this time, primarily because of Centennial Plaza.
"It’s a huge morale uplift for the town," said Thompson, who makes no bones about the fact it is a bedroom community.
"Also, there are implications on the tax base because it’s a large commercial venture."
It also speaks to the challenge of the sustainability of retail businesses in small towns, especially ones so close to Winnipeg which inevitably siphons much of the town’s retail spending.
Kalnuk bought the grocery store he operates from his father in 2002. That business had been operating in the same location for 19 years and it has housed a grocery store for 32 years.
"The building is starting to show its age." Kalnuk said.
"It’s difficult to operate a modern grocery store in a building of that age. The infrastructure — the plumbing, the electrical — is starting to be an issue."
But since there weren’t any third-party developers coming up with an adequate solution, Kalnuk and Sexton had to take matters into their own hands.
"I’ve been knocking around this kind of idea for a decade," said Sexton, who opened his Stonewall pharmacy 15 years ago.
Sexton’s original idea was for a large health clinic that might have included a few other health-care practitioners.
But when Kalnuk approached him a couple of years ago, it made a lot of sense.
In the meantime, the growth of the big-box retail concept has made it increasingly competitive for any independent pharmacy — or grocery store —to succeed regardless of location.
But Sexton said attaching a pharmacy to a medical practice dramatically drives the prescription business and his new store will feature a much larger pharmaceutical dispensary area and a smaller front of store.
Attaching that operation to what will become the largest grocery store in the southern Interlake makes the project almost a no-brainer.
Deborah Jensen, president of the Stonewall Chamber of Commerce and owner of the Stonewall Benjamin Moore paint store, Creative Color by Deb, said the development is a real vote of confidence in the town that everyone in Stonewall can take to heart.
"The local businesses need support from the local residents to survive," she said. "This is going to give everyone a new reason to do just that."
Thompson said another feature to the development was the chance for the town to acquire the CPR right-of-way behind the stores. The abandoned line will be developed into a hiking trail.
The space that Kalnuk and Sexton will vacate in their old stores will also free up some capacity for additional growth in Stonewall’s business district.
"There will be a domino affect," Thompson said.
"It was getting to the point where there were businesses wanting to set up shop downtown and there was just no space. Now there will be."

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About Martin Cash

Martin Cash joined the Free Press in 1987 as the paper’s business columnist.

He has spent two decades chronicling the city’s business affairs.

Martin won a citation of merit from the National Newspaper Awards in 2001 for his coverage of the strike and subsequent multi-million-dollar union settlement at the Versatile tractor plant. He has also received honours and awards for his work on agriculture and technology development in Manitoba.

Martin has written a coffee-table book about the commercial and industrial make-up of the city, called Winnipeg: A Prairie Portrait.

Martin Cash on Twitter: @martycash


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