Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hungry for core grocer

Officials want to fill void left by Zellers exit

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The search is heating up for a replacement for the latest Zellers store to bite the dust -- the outlet in the basement of the downtown Hudson's Bay Co. store.

The downtown Zellers closed its doors on Sunday, leaving area residents with just one full-service grocery store -- the Family Foods outlet at the corner of Broadway and Donald Street.

It also left just one Zellers store still standing in the city -- the one in the Northgate Shopping Centre. Its last day will be on March 30, an HBC spokesperson said Monday.

Today, representatives of five local business groups, spearheaded by the CentreVenture Development Corporation, were to meet with a local consultant to discuss ways of attracting one or two new grocery stores to the downtown.

The consultant -- a local commercial real estate agent who is familiar with the downtown market -- has been asked by the five groups to prepare a report outlining what kind of market exists for downtown grocers, CentreVenture president and CEO Ross McGowan said Monday.

"Are there different markets -- that's what we're trying to find out," McGowan said. "Is the market in the Exchange District different from the market around Portage Place (Shopping Centre)?"

He said the consultant, whom he wouldn't name, is expected to report back in six to eight weeks to the groups, which also include the Forks North Portage Partnership and the Downtown Winnipeg, Exchange District and West End BIZs (business improvement zones). "We share the concerns of residents... and we want to find a solution. But obviously we also want to find the right solution, or solutions."

Downtown Winnipeg BIZ executive director Stefano Grande said the consultant's report will hopefully address most of the questions prospective downtown grocers might have, including potential store locations and the opportunities and challenges likely to be faced during the next few years. It may also identify what the downtown groups may have to do to attract grocers.

"It could be as little as just providing information," Grande said. "The more information we can get out there the better, because it's the private sector that has to step forward."

Grande said the sales for the downtown Zellers store indicate there is enough business to support another full-service grocery store. He was told the Zellers store sold about $6 million worth of groceries and close to $2 million worth of paper and household products in 2011.

"So we know there is a market here, and that it's a market that is not going to shift anywhere else."

Grande said the consultant may also recommend what size of store would be appropriate.

"We've all been assuming its somewhere between 10,000 and 25,000 (square feet)."

The Zellers stores in the Polo Park shopping centre and the Fort Richmond Plaza closed their doors last Thursday, the HBC spokesperson said.

A spokesman for the owner of the Fort Richmond Plaza -- Ladco Co Ltd. -- said Monday the company hasn't finalized its plans for the former Zellers space.

"I really can't say very much right now, except that we're working on a comprehensive redevelopment of both of our properties on the southeast and southwest corners of Pembina (Highway) and Killarney (Avenue)," Ladco president Alan Borger said. "Hopefully, we'll have more details to share in a couple of months' time."

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 19, 2013 B5

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Updated on Tuesday, March 19, 2013 at 9:10 AM CDT: replaces photo

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