Wall Street grocery store ca. 1958 (source)
Red River Co-op is getting back into the Winnipeg grocery scene with the purchase of four stores from the recently merged Sobeys-Safeway chain. It's a return to a market that they operated in from 1958 to 1983.
September 22, 1947, Winnipeg Tribune
On September 15, 1937, the charter of the Red River Co-operators Co-operative Supply Ltd., (now known as Red River Co-op), was signed. For its first two decades, the organization was dedicated to the fuel supply business.
Its parent organization, Federated Co-op Limited's largest assets included an oil refinery in Regina, about 50 oil wells in Saskatchewan and Alberta, two lumber mills in B.C. and a coal mine in Drumheller.
In the 1940s, Co-ops Main Street and Pembina Highway fuel yards added small general stores and in the late 1950s they decided to make the jump into the grocery business.
Designed by Smith Carter Katelnikoff Associates, the $750,000 development consisted of a 20,000 square foot grocery store that had an appliance and hardware department plus a pharmacy. There was also a separate gas station, credit union building and farm supply yard.
June 24, 1958, Winnipeg Free Press
The 4,000 Co-op members and special guests were invited to attend the opening ceremony on June 25, 1958.
Entertainment included a “wild west jamboree” with the Red River Valley Boys and music by the Heather Belle Pipe Band. After some speeches the ribbon was cut by Mrs. A. A. MacDonell, widow of the Co-op's first president and mother of the 1958 one.
September 12, 1961, Winnipeg Free Press
On September 13, 1961, a similar shopping complex was opened as part of the Rossmere Shopping Centre development at Henderson Highway at Rowandale Avenue.
August 21, 1969, Winnipeg Free Press
By 1969, Coop Food Store newspaper ads listed four locations, including Stonewall and St. Norbert, though a purpose-built food store in St. Norbert did not come until 1980.
In 1976, Federated Co-op held their national meeting in Winnipeg. The Manitoba president expressed concern that Red River Co-op's expansion into the grocery and other businesses had stalled. Despite having four grocery stores, half of the Co-op's sales were still in the farm supply category.
This was blamed mostly on a lack of capital with which to open new stores or buy into new businesses, as seen in other Western cities. It was his hope that more co-ops would amalgamate with Red River to bolster their reserves.
There appears to have been such an amalgamation as 1978 newspaper ads listed Red River Co-op food stores at Ellice and Wall, Rossmere Shopping Centre, Cavalier Square on Regent Avenue, St. Norbert, Stonewell, Teulon. Ste. Agathe and Oakbank.
June 25, 1979, Winnipeg Free Press
As for new businesses, around 1978 a Co-op Travel Agency was added to the Ellice and Wall store.
The biggest addition was a 5,620 square foot, $10 million Home Centre, a combination hardware store, lumber yard, gas bar and grocery store that opened at McPhillips Street at Stardust in June 1979.
November 18, 1980, Winnipeg Free Press
The St. Norbert location was rebuilt as a Home Centre in 1980, which included a new, custom-built food store.
October 29, 1982, Winnipeg Free Press
Despite what some may have considered slow growth, the 70,000 member Red River Co-op floundered.
It went from recording a $575,000 profit in 1978 to just a $19,000 profit in 1980 and the projections looking forward to 1986 were for a $7 million loss. (Source: WFP Oct. 20, 1980).
In early October 1982 staff were asked to take a 10% wage reduction while the Co-op sorted out what it was going to do. On October 29, 1982 it was announced that most of its retail operations would be shut* and their successful gas bar business would be examined. .
*The Free Press noted that the operations that would be closed by the end of 1982 included: Wall Street (food, pharmacy); Rossmere (food, pharmacy); McPhillips (food, pharmacy, travel, home centre); Stonewall (general store, lumber); St Norbert (food, home centre); Oakbank (general store); and Teulon (general store).
The original food store on Wall Street was the last to close. It was given a reprieve until the end of February 1983.
The number of gas stations were whittled down to just three as the Co-op struggled to sell off its larger properties in a recession. Its operating losses for the 1983 year were nearly $3 million.
February 1, 1960, Winnipeg Free Press
Some blamed the expensive McPhillips Street development for the Co-op's woes, others noted that the "grocery wars" between rivals Safeway and Superstore meant that smaller chains like Co-op got squeezed out of the market.
Whatever the reason, it knocked Red River Co-op out of the grocery business for over three decades.
Coop Transforming Four Stores - CBC (May 2014)
Purchase announcement Federated Coop
Our History Red River Co-op
75 Years of Service Red River Co-op (Video)