No easy answers for keeping grocery stores in core Saskatoon neighbourhoods, experts say

The impending closure of Extra Foods on Broadway Avenue in Saskatoon means another neighborhood will not have a full-service grocery store.

Former city planner Alan Wallace says the closure is part of a worrying long-term trend.

“What’s at stake here is that a large area of ​​Saskatoon city center now has no full-service grocery store, and you wonder about the future of some of the other ones that are still existing,” Wallace said.

Over the years areas such as City Park, the downtown and Sutherland have lost their grocery stores.

There are still smaller stores on 22nd and 33rd streets, and “you kind of wonder about the future of those stores,” Wallace said.

Former city planner Alan Wallace is worried about the future of a couple of other small grocery stores along 22nd and 33rd streets. (Submitted by Alan Wallace)

Sugandhi del Canto, co-founder of the City Center Food Co-operative, is not surprised at another grocery store in the core part of the city is closing.

“It’s keeping with the general trend that grocery stores want larger tracts of cheaper land. And so that happens when you move further and further out of the city,” del Canto said.

“The irony is that those people could live close by, but they still need a car to get there because the street design is such that even if you had a grocery store nearby in a suburb, you couldn’t easily walk [to it].”

Bright future not enough for Broadway

Wallace said what is different about the closure on Broadway is it’s a more affluent neighborhood.

“In fact, it’s growing with the number of new high rises that have sprung up and are planned for the Broadway area,” he said. “It was just surprising to me that they would close a store where the future kind of looks bright in this location.”

Del Canto said most people like the idea of ​​a nearby grocery store more than they like the actual store.

“Often times when you look at the purchasing habits or purchasing trends within that store, people are buying small items, they’re going there when they need bread or something along those lines” said del Canto, adding that type of buying will not sustain to store.

“I’m not saying that that’s the case for the Broadway location because there were people for whom that was their main store.”

Wallace said that particular store had a tired layout.

“It was a very old form and it’s a small footprint.

“When you look at other cities and, in particular, dense areas like the Broadway area, what you tend to find is smaller grocery stores, but in a different format. Some of them are even two storeys.”

He said Broadway residents will still have specialty shops, but they tend to be more expensive, and that means the idea of ​​shopping local is still for the privileged.

“You need to be able to spend that kind of money,” del Canto said. “Those who can definitely should. But I also think it’s important to remember that we shouldn’t shame people who can’t afford that.

“At the heart of it is that Saskatoon is stuck in this loop of, if more people live downtown, there would be a grocery store or, more people would live downtown if there was a grocery store,” del Canto said.

“We’re constantly chasing our tail.”

While the city can offer some form of incentives to try and entice grocery stores to certain areas, nothing has really worked so far.

“[Broadway] is already a very attractive area for development, and there’s going to be more and more people who want to live in this area now,” Wallace said.

Del Canto said the store’s parent company, Loblaw Companies, may place a restrictive covenant on that site, meaning future owners wouldn’t be able to open a grocery store.

The community could organize and try to get Loblaw to lift any restriction.

In the meantime, del Canto said people in the area should support the food stores that are nearby.

“Consider making that your primary grocery store, because if those food stores are only ever treated as the place where you go, pick up a few things, that’s not economically sustainable,” del Canto said.

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