The North End is set to lose yet another grocery store, and what will replace it isn’t certain yet.
The Competition Bureau recently ordered that Sobey’s sell 23 of its Canadian Safeway stores, including the one at 1441 Main St. This news comes after the Extra Foods next door closed its doors in March.
Although the Safeway could be sold to another grocer, and Loblaws could re-open the still-to-be-sold Extra Foods, some shoppers are concerned of the possibility of both stores being closed at the same time.
"If Safeway closes, I have no idea where we’ll go," Tom James said while standing outside the North End Safeway.
James, 40, along with his partner Eva Zglobicki, 39, said they shop at Safeway three to four times a week. A low-income family, the couple doesn’t own a car — they walk to get their groceries.
"There’s an IGA up by Jefferson (1650 Main St.), but price-wise, it’s a lot more expensive than what we’re paying here," Zglobicki said. "We’d have to take the bus or a cab. We have a two-month-old baby so it’s not really easy at all."
Access to grocery stores is an issue for North End residents, especially those without vehicles, but there are a few organizations trying to keep the area from becoming a total food desert.
The North End Food Security Network — a component of the North End Community Renewal Corporation — runs a free grocery shuttle every Thursday at 1 p.m., with five different pick-up locations in the North End.
The organization also runs the Main Street Farmers Market in the summer, promotes North End grocery store Neechi Commons (865 Main St.), offers cooking, gardening and nutrition workshops, and sits on the board of directors for the Winnipeg FoodShare Co-op.
"We (FoodShare) have the Good Food Box program," said Jasmine Tara, Food Security co-ordinator. "It’s a box full of fresh produce delivered biweekly to community depots in the North End, so that’s a way we’re bringing healthy and fresh food into the North End."
Tara says Good Food Box is a bulk-buying club that offers healthy, quality, affordable and, whenever possible, local fruits and vegetables.
Food Matters Manitoba, a registered charity that works to promote "healthy, sustainable and fair food," works alongside FoodShare. Executive director Stefan Epp-Koop said he’s worried about the growing food desert trend.
"We’re seeing it downtown, we’re seeing it elsewhere, grocery stores leaving inner-city communities and the result of that, particularly for people who have the least mobility, they suffer the most," said Epp-Koop. "People end up buying groceries from convenience stores, or they’re going to go to fast food restaurants more often. There are lots of places where they’ve shown a very direct link between access to grocery stores and physical health, so something like this can affect the health of a neighbourhood."
Currently, Food Matters Manitoba is doing a community food assessment of downtown Winnipeg. Epp-Koop says the food access question is a key issue that’s emerged, and the charity is looking at some community-generated ideas to address it.
"The idea of healthy corner stores," Epp-Koop said. "If these are the stores that are left in the community, try to figure out if there are ways to work with corner store owners to increase the
availability of healthy foods."