Neechi Commons held its Grand Opening in March 2013 and is now on its way to becoming a major focal point for commerce and development in Winnipeg’s North-end.
What’s so special about Neechi Commons?
- Neechi Commons is a community business complex that includes a full-range neighbourhood supermarket, produce courtyard, restaurant, bakery, catering services, specialty foods, Aboriginal books, arts, crafts, music and clothing, and a seasonal farmers market.
- It is located in Winnipeg on a 50,000 sq. ft. lot that straddles north Point Douglas on the east and Lord Selkirk Park on the west. These and other surrounding neighbourhoods in the ‘north-end’ and south of the CPR tracks face tough social and economic challenges. Neechi Commons was deliberately developed in this part of the city to foster neighbourhood revitalization and to provide economic opportunities for Aboriginal youth and other area residents. At the same time the site is very well situated from a commercial standpoint.
- Neechi Foods Co-Op Ltd. is Winnipeg’s largest commercial employer of First Nations and Métis people. So far some 50 new jobs have been created at Neechi Commons in the neighbourhood supermarket, restaurant, bakery, produce courtyard, and Aboriginal arts store. Hiring priority is given to residents of adjoining neighbourhoods.
- In addition, the arts store, ‘Neechi Niche’ is supporting the livelihoods of over 40 artisans and authors, most of whom live within walking distance of Neechi Commons. The Commons also supports a variety of urban and rural farmers or gardeners through a seasonal farmers market. Some of the urban gardeners are neighbourhood youth, organized and trained through ‘Food for Folks’. Neechi Commons also is home to the Aboriginal Chamber of Commerce and to the Momentum Centre, which helps to transition Aboriginal youth and new Canadians aged 18 to 30 years off of Employment and Income Assistance into careers of their choice.
- Neechi is committed to hiring and supporting neighbourhood youth. In part this means that Neechi Commons is providing a direct alternative to street gangs. And, for neighbourhood residents in general, employment at the Commons offers an alternative to dependency on income assistance.
- An evolving staff development program emphasizes team building and the enhancement of personal and community self-esteem, as well as job-specific skills.
- Employment and training opportunities compliment local high school programs and vocational training institutes.
- The operation of a neighbourhood supermarket at Neechi Commons fills an inner-city neighbourhood void by restoring and expanding wide-ranging and economical food services.
- Neechi promotes healthy foods and lifestyles. Before opening the Commons, Neechi Foods Co-Op was already known for promoting healthy eating and healthy living. Its Dufferin Ave. store was the first grocery store in Winnipeg to not sell cigarettes – well ahead of the pharmacies – and has been subsidizing fresh fruit for neighbourhood children since it began operations over 23 years ago. (Neechi does provide special tobacco pouches for ceremonial purposes.) The cooperative has been honoured nationally, at a meeting of the Canadian Diabetes Association, and locally, by the Reh-Fit Centre, for its diabetes prevention work.
- The produce courtyard, farmers’ market, restaurant, and other components of the Commons, have a strong focus on locally harvested and processed foods in order to promote healthy foods and environmental sustainability and to support farmers, pickers, fishers, ranchers and food processors in Manitoba and northwestern Ontario.
- Specialty foods that promote ethnically diverse foods, local specialty food suppliers, and cross-cultural interest and respect, will become increasingly prominent in 2014.
- Neechi Commons includes an Aboriginal arts centre that serves as both a retail outlet and as a gallery for First Nations, Métis and Inuit artists, artisans, authors, illustrators, singers and musicians. Periodically neighbourhood schools and community centres showcase their students’ artwork and participate in workshops, performances and presentations at the Commons. On-going artistic and literary events at the Commons are very popular and are a clear demonstration of how Neechi Commons is filling a pronounced community need, beyond the core commercial services. Along with the restaurant, these programs are making a special contribution to the Commons’ rising, overall reputation as a community hub for family, friends and work associates.
- Aboriginal artists and performers of all ages and representatives of diverse ethnic artistic traditions also are invited to participate in daytime and evening events, as mentors and as performers. Appreciation of cultural diversity will be a constant theme.
- The planning of Neechi Commons included a formal Integrated Design Process that included a lot of community input.
- The Commons is making a vital contribution to community pride in adjoining neighbourhoods. It also contributes to positive self-esteem within the wider Aboriginal community and in Winnipeg as a whole.
- Neechi Foods Co-Op is an owner-operated business incorporated as a worker cooperative. This means that employees have the opportunity to become business owners and entrepreneurs; an opportunity that most of them otherwise would never get.
- The cooperative membership structure ensures community based ownership whereby neighbourhood families are effectively represented in the control of the enterprise.
- Investment Shares offered to the general public are used as a means of helping to finance Neechi Commons and as a way of encouraging broad community stakeholder participation. These Investment Shares are not sold for speculative purposes. Modest returns are projected but the big pay-back is community economic development. The Province of Manitoba approved Neechi’s Investment Share Offering for inclusion in their Community Enterprise Development Tax Credit program.
- Neechi Commons is expected to become a cornerstone for the revitalization of commerce along Main Street north of the CPR tracks. Accordingly, Neechi Commons is of vital interest to the North-end and to the city of Winnipeg as a whole.
- The physical development of Neechi Commons included very deliberate restoration of the heritage character of two attached buildings at Main and Euclid. They were built in 1903 and 1904, respectively, and designed by the prominent local architect, J. H. G. Russell. Historically this site has been a prominent north Main landmark housing a wide variety of commercial businesses.
- Neechi Commons will build on the fruits and vegetable legacy of the California Fruit Market which operated at the same location in recent decades and on the legacy of the famed North End Farmers Market which operated across the street in earlier decades.
- The complex showcases geo-thermal heating and cooling and has received Green Globes certification.
- The governments of Canada and Manitoba have recognized the unique social and economic potential of Neechi Commons by investing in the project with infrastructure stimulus grants that helped to offset construction costs. Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (Urban Aboriginal Strategy), the Centre for Aboriginal Human Resource Development (CAHRD), and the United Way of Winnipeg in partnership with SEED Winnipeg, have provided funds for the development of staff training and support systems. CAHRD also has covered a substantial portion of initial trainee wages.
- Neechi has partnered with various community agencies by providing work experience and assisted employment opportunities. This includes work experience in conjunction with the Province of Manitoba (Manitoba Jobs & Skill Development) and on-going recruitment services from CAHRD plus a variety of partnerships involving programs with a special focus on Aboriginal youth, such as: The Momentum Centre, now an anchor office tenant at Neechi Commons; Training Resources for Youth (TRY) at New Directions for Children, Youth, Adults & Families; and Project Oasis, which is part of the Province’s Youth Justice Program with First Step to Employment, run by St.Matthews Maryland Community Ministry.
- Some 50 residents of Winnipeg helped with business planning and development on a volunteer basis through participation in Neechi Commons work groups. In all, before operations commenced, over 9,500 volunteer hours, equivalent to five years of full-time work, was invested in the project because of its unique commercial and social value.
Dear friends, Open Letter to Winnipeg Re: NEECHI COMMONS This letter is being circulated by the Canadian Worker Co-operative Federation on behalf of the signatories listed below. These individuals are active in a cross section of co-operative and community economic development organizations as well as in universities. The letter is intended to let you know about a remarkable sister Co-operative that is blazing a trail in empowerment for its members and social justice in the community. A Co-op doing such principled work that it elevates the name of co-operative enterprise and by reflection enhances all of our reputations. We are talking about Neechi Foods Co-operative in Winnipeg (865 Main Street, at Euclid). This Co-op needs your patronage and support. Louise Champagne, the president of the Co-op and long-time leader of the enterprise, shepherding it through more than 23 years of operations and meeting all challenges, recently accepted the 2013 Excellence in Aboriginal Business Leadership Award from the Asper School of Business, University of Manitoba, on behalf of the Co-op. In her acceptance speech Louise made the following comments: “Neechi Foods Co-op Ltd. is a worker cooperative. This is a form of economic democracy that encourages staff to develop a sense of business ownership. Neechi means “friend”, “sister” or “brother” in Cree and Ojibwa. On March 19 this year (2013) we held the Grand Opening of Neechi Commons, our beautiful, 30,000 square foot, community business complex at 865 Main Street, for which we received a Green Globes award for high environmental standards. Previously we operated a nearby, small corner grocery and Aboriginal specialty store for 23 years. In Neechi’s early days we drew up a list of community economic development principles: • creation of goods & services that are used locally • purchases of locally produced goods • local reinvestment of surpluses (profits) • employment and training of local people • community-oriented business ownership • community health and • human dignity We were the first grocery operation in Manitoba to not sell cigarettes – ahead of the pharmacies! At our old store we have always had a children’s fruit basket, subsidized by the staff, where the previous owner sold cigarettes, war toys and Barbie dolls. We also have run various diabetes prevention programs and played a key role in neighbourhood efforts to push back street prostitution and other gang activities that became rampant in the mid 1990s. All along we have understood that economic healing is needed to sustain personal and social healing. This is the context in which Neechi Commons was born. We have taken what we did at our old store to a much higher level, including a strong focus on regionally harvested and processed foods, a lovely art store and gallery, a restaurant and catering service backed up by an impressive commercial kitchen, a well equipped bakery, and a neighbourhood supermarket with a fruit and vegetable courtyard, freshwater fish and full meat service.” Neechi Commons needs your help to achieve its goals. It hopes to become the cornerstone for the revitalization of commerce in a Winnipeg neighbourhood that has faced long-term economic hardship. The Co-op has created over 50 new employment opportunities for aboriginal youth and other neighbourhood residents. Neechi Co-op has not chosen an easy path focused only on commercial viability. It has chosen to blaze a trail to be a transformative venture in the same spirit as other Co-operative pioneers. Its success will not only be a beacon of light in its local neighbourhood but also a shining example of the inherent power of the Co-operative form of enterprise to change lives for the better. The most obvious and simple way that you can support Neechi is by purchasing products at the Commons. Another way that you can help is by signing up for Neechi’s weekly e-mail promotion and updates, at firstname.lastname@example.org . Your support can help to ensure the success of this Co-operative enterprise. In the words of Louise Champagne: “We will remain heavily focused on achieving the commercial profitability needed for long-term business and community success. Neechi Commons symbolizes how Aboriginal People can regain control of land and economic decision-making within a modern community context.” Sincerely yours, • Cindy Coker, Executive Director, SEED Winnipeg • Hazel Corcoran, CWCF Executive Director, Calgary • Kaye Grant, CWCF Communications Manager, Winnipeg • David Kerr, Co-op Consultant, Winnipeg • Richard LeMoing, Director, Manitoba Co-operative Association, Minnedosa, MB • Marty Donkervoort, Social Enterprise Consultant and Instructor, University of Winnipeg, Winnipeg • Shaun Loney, Executive Director, BUILD (Building Urban Industries for Local Development) • Greg O’Neill, Co-operative Developer, Calgary • Brendan Reimer, Regional Director, Canadian CED Network – Manitoba • Dr. Claudia Sanchez-Bajo, Chair of Co-operative Enterprises, University of Winnipeg • Lucas Stewart, General Manager, Manitoba Green Retrofit Inc., Winnipeg • Dr. Wanda Wuttunee, Professor, Native Studies & Director, Aboriginal Business Education Partners, University of Manitoba
Neechi Foods has a not-for-profit management support arm, Collaboration Co-op Development Services Inc. Through the Collaboration Co-op over 50 people worked on the business planning of Neechi Commons, mostly as volunteers. The following people are current members of Neechi`s Management Team, are providing support services or are available on an advisory basis:
Louise (Desmarais) Champagne, President of Neechi Foods Co-Op since its inception 24 years ago; recipient of the Cooperative Achievement Award from the Canadian Cooperative Association and the Worker Co-op Merit Award from the Canadian Worker Cooperative Federation; initiator of Payuk Inter-tribal (housing) Co-op; and co-chair of the Winnipeg Native Child Welfare Coalition that created the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, Canada’s first urban Aboriginal child and family support agency.
David Kerr, former chartered accountant and senior cooperative business officer with the Province of Manitoba; widely regarded as Manitoba’s leading technical expert on cooperatives.
Shariff Kahn, former owner and manager of Pastel’s Restaurant at the Place Louis Riel Hotel.
Deborah Sterling, highly experienced IT professional and business manager; specialist in business process engineering, project management, technology development, and change management.
Beatrice (Culleton) Mosoinier, director of the “Neechi Niche” arts store and cultural centre; celebrated Aboriginal author.
Arlea Ashcroft, Operations Manager of Neechi Niche; talented artist, gallery curator and events planner.
Rhian Brynjolson, artist, illustrator and teacher; coordinated the arts store/centre work group.
Russ Rothney, Treasurer; previously Neechi Commons Project Manager and, before that, Community Economic Development Manager, Assiniboine Credit Union.
Dennis Champagne, Consultant: IT, Plant Systems and Grocery Systems; background in power and computer engineering.
Iain Brynjolson, Produce Manager; founding member of Food for Folks; former supervisor at the The Forks produce store.
Nanette McKay, coordinated the Foods Services Work Group; senior policy advisor, All Nations Coordinated Response Network (ANCR).
Lisa Anderson, Senior Human Resources Consultant, Investors Group, and former Manager of Employment and Diversity, Assiniboine Credit Union.
Dennis Lewycky, labour, communications and community development specialist; former Executive Director of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg.