After much planning and even more construction, managers of the new Neechi Commons are preparing to throw open the doors to the establishment.
Neechi Commons, a 30,000-sq. ft. grocery store and restaurant complex in the city’s North End, is nearly ready to open. A select group of visitors were granted access to the new store, which is still under construction, during the Social Purchasing Portal’s holiday shopping tour on Dec. 13.
Neechi Commons will house a grocery store and restaurant, which will both utilize locally-produced food, as well as an art store. Project manager Russ Rothney said the art store will feature a variety of aboriginal products, including mukluks, dreamcatchers and paintings, as well as books and music by aboriginal creators.
"We expect this will be the number one aboriginal cultural store and centre in the city," Rothney said.
The art store’s very creation has been an effort of community artists. April Raintree author Beatrice Cullen, Rothney noted, is one of the carpenters working to install shelving in the art store.
Rothney said Neechi officials are planning for an opening date of Jan. 2, although they had originally hoped to be open before Christmas.
"We’re very optimistic, but we’re sad we couldn’t get opened before the Christmas season, but there’s incredible excitement both among our staff and in the neighbourhood. We’re feeling very buoyant," he said.
Rothney said the commons will do what Neechi Foods Co-op has already been doing for years— housing a little bit of everything under one roof— it’s just doing it bigger and bolder.
"It evolved from that. But it’s all about providing health and human dignity to people," Rothney said.
"That’s where the artistic, cultural aspect hooks in, with consciousness about local foods. A lot of the local foods featured are traditional foods, whether it’s Manitoba fish or wild rice."
Louise Champagne, president of Neechi Foods Co-op Ltd., said being located on the east side of Main Street means commuters heading home to north Winnipeg will be in a perfect position to stop in and shop for local products.
But what excites her the most is the potential the place has for changing the community.
"The potential for being a regional food centre, where we buy local as much as possible, and sell to anyone who wants to buy local," she said.
"We’re creating outlets for a lot of producers here in the region and making that available to the North End... It’s the potential for success, and we really do need more successful models in our society."
Champagne said Neechi is interested in getting the community involved in a very real way, by offering shares for sale.
"We’re a co-op, we’ve got permission to sell outside of our membership, so we’ve got a public share offering out there," she said.
"We’re giving people an opportunity to invest here. This is not a charity, it’s asking people to invest their money into an enterprise that turns around and around, and keeps making the local economy work for the local people here."
Neechi hosted a pair of meetings at the Commons on Dec. 14 and 15 for just that purpose. Members are also encouraging local residents to host their own meetings about getting involved and invite Neechi to come and speak about shareholder opportunities and other ways to get involved.
To contact Neechi, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (204) 586-3798.