Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Closings eat at downtown

Low-income residents worry as Zellers, Extra Foods supermarkets prepare to leave

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John Clark lives downtown and has a healthy, active lifestyle. He walks to the grocery store in the Bay from his seniors residence a few times a week.

"I go when we need stuff," said Clark, 87, who shops for his wife and himself. "We eat a lot of fresh fruit," said Clark, who buys what he can carry with his walker.

After March 13, he'll have to take a cab for groceries when Zellers and its grocery store in the Bay basement closes for good.

"It really is throwing people off," Clark said. "You need a good grocery store downtown."

"There's a lot of students down here and older people with lower incomes," he said. "Some wouldn't be able to afford a taxi."

Another major grocery store in the inner city, Extra Foods on Notre Dame Avenue, is closing Nov. 24.

Many shoppers were upset Tuesday to hear the only discount grocer in the area is disappearing.

"I feel sad," said Mohsen Farati, carrying two bags of groceries to his home four blocks away. "This store is near our house," said the father of four children, ages four to 15. The refugees fled the Democratic Republic of Congo and arrived in Canada two years ago. Extra Foods' closing will be a challenge for the newcomers, who have no car. "I don't know what to do," Farati said.

"It's brutal," said Mike, a support worker who lives and works near Extra Foods. Many of his clients with physical disabilities shop there, too. "These people don't have cars," said Mike, who didn't want his last name published. "They walk."

Remaining independent is important for Margaret Olynk, a 91-year-old retired nurse, who buys her groceries at the Bay downtown.

"I generally go there twice a week to do my shopping," said the widowed war bride, who lives near Central Park. "There's nowhere close by."

She uses a walker and takes a cab there because it's convenient and affordable. Olynk can't understand why the grocery in the Bay is closing.

"Since Zellers took over, they've put a lot of money into remodelling the basement and the food department. I'm surprised it would close up."

Coun. Harvey Smith (Daniel McIntyre) said he's been hearing from many residents who are upset they're losing the Zellers grocery store in the Bay. "I'm getting a lot of calls on the closure." Extra Foods' closing on Notre Dame was more bad news for the area, he said.

"It's crazy," Smith said, adding people will have farther to walk or take the bus for groceries. With less competition, the smaller remaining stores may raise their prices, the city councillor said.

He worries about Extra Foods sitting vacant. "It will be an eyesore if it's not occupied."

The company isn't saying what might happen with the property.

"It was determined that the location is no longer economically viable to operate," a spokeswoman for Loblaws, the parent company of the Extra Foods and Real Canadian Superstore chains, said in a prepared statement.

Employees can move to other Extra Foods and Superstore locations, she said. "They have been committed to serving the people of Notre Dame for many years and we appreciate their effort and dedication."

The Extra Foods at that location will be missed, said Alazar Negasi, social services manager for Welcome Place, which helps settle refugees from around the world.

"It's very close for our people and the price is fair," said Negasi. There are some ethnic food stores in the area, but they don't have much variety, Negasi said. Prices are generally higher, especially for dairy, eggs, bread, paper products and cleaning items, he said.

"Now we'll have to go all the way to Safeway on Sargent and Sherbrook," he said, adding it's a long walk for people, especially in winter and if they have small children.

Losing major grocery stores is bad for the health of a community, said Jamil Mahmood, executive director of the Spence Neighbourhood Association.

"It's a huge problem. We hear it all the time: 'I can't afford to eat produce, to eat healthy,' and 'At the corner store, all it is is processed food.' "

Malnutrition in neighbourhoods without access to affordable, healthy food is a concern, said public health nutritionist Jessica Penner.

"Without access to healthy nutrition, you have higher rates of chronic disease and things like heart conditions."

The Spence Neighbourhood Association just joined a food-share co-op that buys nutritious food in bulk at low cost and passes the savings on to customers, said Mahmood. Other Winnipeg neighbourhoods in "food deserts" are also part of the co-op, he said. He expects more people will join now that the inner city is losing another grocery store.

"Extra Foods was the lower-cost option."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 17, 2012 A4

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