Neechi Commons held its Grand Opening in March 2013 with hopes of becoming a focal point for commerce and development in Winnipeg’s North-end. By this time Neechi Foods Co-Op Ltd. had already been in business for 23 years, having opened a much smaller store, Neechi Foods Community Store, on Dufferin Avenue in 1991. The following is a profile of Neechi Commons compiled before business operations were halted in 2018:
With the opening of Neechi Commons at 865 Main Street, Neechi has greatly expanded its North End tradition as an indigenous grocery and specialty store. It is truly a community store, based around the principles of an Aboriginal owned and operated worker co-operative. Neechi Commons includes a neighbourhood supermarket, restaurant and arts store. We are well-known for our oven-fresh bannock, fresh and frozen wild blueberries, wild rice, local fruits and vegetables, local fish, very competitively priced quality meats, specialty jams, hand-crafted moccasins, Aboriginal artwork and children’s books. Neechi means friend/sister/brother in Cree and Ojibwa.
What’s so special about Neechi Commons?
Neechi Commons is a community business complex operated by Neechi Foods Co-Op Ltd. It includes a full- range neighbourhood supermarket and a restaurant and catering service that feature regionally-sourced foods, and an arts store that showcases indigenous fine arts, crafts, books, music and clothing.
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.
It is located in Winnipeg at 865 Main Street 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.
- With more than 40 payroll staff, Neechi Foods Co-Op Ltd. is Winnipeg’s largest commercial employer of First Nations and Métis people in the city. About 80 % of staff positions are held by Aboriginal People. Hiring priority is given to residents of adjoining neighbourhoods.
- Neechi’s arts store, ‘Neechi Niche’, is supporting the livelihoods of over 200 artisans and authors, most of whom live within walking distance of Neechi Commons. Neechi Commons also is home to the Aboriginal Designers Co-op, which creates and sells customized fashion clothing.
- Employment and skills development of neighbourhood residents offers an alternative to dependency on income assistance. Hiring and supporting neighbourhood youth provides an alternative to street gangs. Employment and training opportunities compliment local school programs, vocational institutes and community agencies.
- The neighbourhood supermarket fills an inner-city neighbourhood void by restoring and expanding wide-ranging and economical food services. Neechi has started selling to northern communities, helping to lower the cost of nutritious foods in communities without year-round road access.
- Neechi promotes healthy foods and lifestyles. The co-op’s Dufferin Avenue store was the first grocery store in Winnipeg to not sell cigarettes – well ahead of the pharmacies – and subsidized fresh fruit for neighbourhood children. The cooperative has been honoured locally and nationally for its diabetes prevention work.
- By focusing on locally harvested and processed foods Neechi Commons promotes healthy foods and environmental sustainability and supports farmers, pickers, fishers, ranchers and food processors in Manitoba and northwestern Ontario.
- Neechi Niche is an indigenous 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. There are on-going, free artistic and literary events at the Commons.
- 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. Sharing circles have often been held at Neechi to further reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous people. Neechi’s BisonBerry Restaurant has become a community gathering place for families, community organizations and socially-conscious indigenous youth.
- Neechi Commons is helping to revitalize commerce along Main Street north of the CPR tracks. In recent years this area had descended into ‘skid row’ status. Accordingly, Neechi Commons is of vital interest to the North-end and to the city of Winnipeg as a whole.
- In 2016 Neechi’s payroll amounted to $965,000. The co-op paid $97,000 in property and business taxes. Much of its sales of $3.3 million were for products and services provided to inner-city neighbourhoods. A social return on investment (SROI) framework indicated that every dollar of social investment support to Neechi would create $4.70 of social value to the community because of employment-related personal income tax and reductions to spending on income assistance, health care, day-care and crime prevention.
- The physical development of Neechi Commons included restoration of the heritage character of two attached buildings, built in 1903 and 1904. The complex showcases geo-thermal heating and cooling and has received Green Globes certification.
- Before Neechi Commons opened some 50 people helped with business planning and development on a volunteer basis because of the Common’s unique commercial and social value. Since opening, in 2013, the equivalent of three full-time professional staff positions have been filled on a volunteer basis.
* On Louis Riel Day, February 16, 2015, Neechi was honoured by Heritage Winnipeg with their Special President’s Award for the heritage restoration work that went into the creation of Neechi Commons. The ceremony took place in the rotunda of the old CN Station.
* On July 16, 2014, Winnipeg City Council voted to provide Neechi with a “Strategic Economic Incentive Grant” in recognition of the valuable employment, cultural and community building role of Neechi Commons. Here is a link to Neechi’s presentation to the Executive Policy Committee prior to the Council meeting: Winnipeg – EPC 2014 07 16
* Neechi Foods Co-Op Ltd. is the winner of the 2013 Excellence in Aboriginal Business Leadership Award from the Asper School of Business, University of Manitoba! Here is a link to photos of the Award event at the Winnipeg Convention Centre: http://www.flickr.com/photos/39774696@N07/sets/72157637022998345/ (click the return arrow to return to the Neechi website)
* Neechi is a signatory to the Manitoba Food Charter www.foodmattersmanitoba.ca/content/manitoba-food-charter).
Neechi Foods Co-Op Ltd. is a member of the Canadian Worker Cooperative Federation http://www.canadianworker.coop
Neechi is a purchase partner of Local Investment Toward Employment (LITE) www.lite.mb.ca
Neechi is a purchasing and a supplier partner with Winnipeg’s Social Purchasing Portal. http://sppwinnipeg.org/contact-us/