Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fly-in reserve a first for Tim's

But expanded store a bigger deal up north

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TIM HORTONS and cheaper food are coming to Oxford House.

On Monday, the first Tim Hortons kiosk in a fly-in First Nations community in Canada opens in the new Northern Store in Oxford House.

The new 12,000-square-foot store was added on to the old 14,000-square-foot store in the northern Manitoba community, and the old space was then converted into warehouse space.

The addition enabled the owner, the Winnipeg-based North West Company, to expand the store's retail space by 3,000 square feet and add a self-serve Tim Hortons kiosk that sells mainly coffee, donuts and muffins.

And by converting the old store to warehouse space, the company increased the store's storage capacity more than fourfold, which will enable North West to haul in a lot more non-perishable goods during the winter road season because there's now a place to keep them. That, in turn, will mean flying in fewer goods during the rest of the year, which means lower prices for community residents.

North West executive vice-president Michael McMullen and Keewatin Tribal Council Chief Irvin Sinclair said getting a larger store -- the old one only had about 9,000 square feet of retail space -- and a bigger warehouse are the biggest benefits for the community and its residents. The Tim Hortons kiosk is icing on the cake.

McMullen said it costs roughly 30 to 50 per cent more to fly goods into Oxford House than to haul them in by winter road. Those added costs are passed on to the store's customers, although there are federal freight subsidies to help lower the price of nutritional items such as meats, dairy foods and fresh produce.

"It (the difference in shipping costs) is huge, so we invested in it (the existing store) to make it better, and so we could have lower prices all year round in the community."

Sinclair, who was chief of Bunibonibee Cree Nation (Oxford House) until last April when he was elected chief of the Keewatin Tribal Council, said Oxford House desperately needed a bigger grocery store.

"We have a growing population and we are one of the biggest reserves in northern Manitoba," he said. Before, "the shelves were next to bare all of the time."

With more space, the store can not only stockpile more non-perishable goods, he said, but also carry more nutritional items such as fresh meats, fruits and vegetables.

The Tim Hortons was a bonus.

"We're all very happy about it."

Sinclair said the tribal council would like to see more grocery-store expansions and more urban amenities added in other northern First Nations communities.

"We're always looking for new joint ventures. We need to grow."

McMullen, who is executive vice-president of the North West Company's northern Canada retail division, said the Oxford House redevelopment project cost $6.2 million and took 16 months to complete.

He said the only other Northern Store with a Tim Hortons kiosk is in Iqaluit, Nunavut, although there are plans to add two more next spring -- one in northern Saskatchewan and one on Baffin Island.

He said Oxford House got one because the company was expanding the store there, the population was big enough -- about 2,600 people -- and the community wanted it.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 27, 2012 B6

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Updated on Saturday, October 27, 2012 at 8:41 AM CDT: adds colour photo

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