Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

No bailouts required for Pollock's

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In June 2008, Pollock's Hardware was reborn due in a large part to the historic cooperative values that were embraced by our North End neighbourhood. Little did we know at the time that we would be starting up this unique community enterprise amidst one of the worst economic recessions of our times. On the first year anniversary of the re-opening of the store, which had closed after 85 years when the owners retired and a new owner could not be found, we are pleased to report that while global capitalism is unravelling, Pollock's Hardware Co-op is making record sales. No bailouts required here. Our community-owned hardware store on north Main Street is thriving.

The revival of Pollock's Hardware, which was established in 1922, is based on the same historic co-operative principles used by prairie farmers to deal with the devastation of the prevailing survival- of-the-fittest private market ideology that impacted their livelihoods by forming wheat pools and marketing boards. As well, communities have organized themselves along co-operative lines to establish credit unions to fill the void left by banking institutions.

North End residents organized a hardware consumer co-operative because no individual entrepreneur was willing to operate the local hardware store after the previous owners closed the business because they wanted to retire. While the traditional individualistic, private-profit-oriented approach failed our neighbourhood, a co-operative community profit oriented strategy has proven to be extremely successful.

The board of directors that was formed to provide direction to the co-op was very nervous about this "David and Goliath" venture when we first opened the store last June. We knew we had amazing support and goodwill from local residents from the community meetings that we organized earlier in the year. But would this be enough for the proverbial underdog to win one once in awhile?

I guess you can say the proof is definitely in the pudding. The co-op set a goal to have 200 members in the first year of operation and 500 members after the first four years. After being up and running for a year, the co-op has attracted 1,250 paid members!

Other achievements of the Pollock's Hardware Co-op are equally impressive. First-year sales were 22 per cent above the projections of our business plan and member equity investments wound up being 38 per cent above the established business plan target.

The Assiniboine Credit Union, one of the largest financial co-operatives in Winnipeg, played a critical role in supporting the Pollock's Hardware Co-op dream to become a reality. It's interesting to note that back in the early 1990s, a group of community activists decided to take over the Assiniboine Credit Union because it was behaving no differently than a bank. It had lost its commitment to the social justice tradition of the co-operative movement.

Some of the changes that were made by the new board of directors elected in the takeover of the credit union included establishing a community economic development staff position. One of the major initiatives of this staff person was to work closely with the faith community to establish a social justice investment fund known as the Jubilee Fund. This fund has a mandate to support the development of community co-operatives and enterprises in the inner city. Pollock's Hardware Co-op was able to work with the Jubilee Fund to secure a loan for the much needed start-up working capital to launch our enterprise.

The provincial government's community economic development tax credit program provides a 30 per cent tax credit for those individuals that invest in qualified community economic development or cooperative enterprises. Pollock's Hardware Co-op was eligible for this tax credit program which has proven to be a very important resource to encourage equity investments from our members.

Another major feature of the co-operative approach adopted by Pollock's is to support local community enterprises through our selection of suppliers and distribution partnerships. A small community enterprise in Altona builds wooden clothes drying racks which are a popular item for Pollock's members. The hardware store also sells wooden lawn chair furniture and picnic tables made by this Altona enterprise.

Instead of importing insulation from the United States like the big box hardware stores, Pollock's sells home insulation that is made from recycled paper produced by a community enterprise in Morden. A local Winnipeg based community enterprise produces metal pails and garbage buckets sold by the hardware store.

Pollock's has an interesting partnership with a local social enterprise, BUILD Construction, which trains aboriginal and inner city residents to work in the home insulation sector. BUILD purchases insulation, toilets and other building materials from Pollock's because it supports the co-operative enterprise principles of the hardware store.

Members of our North End neighbourhood took a huge risk last year when we made the decision as a community to save our local hardware store. It has been an extremely rewarding experience to draw upon our North End tradition and spirit, to fight the good fight, and to overcome enormous challenges including the big box store mentality and a global recession. We all can take pride in the way we were able to apply our community and co-operative values to re-open the doors Pollock's Hardware -- the little hardware store that could on north Main Street.

Tom Simms is a Winnipeg activist and freelance writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 17, 2009 A13

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