The Mondragon café 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."
'We've had a rough year, a rough couple of years, financially. 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 café's bottom line, also saw shrinking sales, like bookstores across the continent.
And where once the co-op had a dozen members to share the work, only five remain. The five had been talking seriously about closing all month, and Jan. 25 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, the 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 Wiens.
Mondragon is key among several business and activist groups, such as Natural Cycle and the Boreal Forest Network, that share space in the historic building known as the Albert Street 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.
The café was known for political lectures, panel discussions and activist events that brought in musicians and writers such as Naomi Klein.
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, including southern-fried tofu.