The Albert Street Autonomous Zone (A-Zone) Co-op has taken a landmark step towards completely living up to its name with its recent purchase of 91 Albert St., a property that has housed the co-op’s various member groups since 1995.
For the uninitiated, it can be difficult to describe the A-Zone.
“I think the A-Zone means a lot of things to different people,” said Doug Grant, an A-Zone co-op member and Natural Cycle Courier worker.
Part of what makes the A-Zone unique is that all of its members, which include organizations and businesses of all kinds, adhere to a socially progressive and grassroots-and-community-focused set of principles that provide a cohesive tone for the building’s various operations.
Consequently, all members share an equal voice in matters of decision-making - so, don’t expect to see any hierarchical or centralized leadership in place here.
“(The building purchase) is exciting and it’s important,” said Grant, though he also pointed out that the property’s previous owner, Paul Burrows, was no tyrant. “He was great and he was one of the founding members of Mondragon (the A-Zone’s resident coffee joint, bookstore and grocery store) - he envisioned this building.
“But having this collective ownership is even more in line with our beliefs,” he added.
Grant stressed the importance of the local community’s role in the A-Zone’s property purchase.
“We had to raise a substantial amount of money to make the down payment on the building,” he said, explaining that this initial capital came almost exclusively from countless fundraisers over the course of the past two years as well as individual donations.
“It reaffirmed that there is a lot of support for this building in the community.”
Still, the purchasing process held numerous challenges for the A-Zone during its quest for equal ownership.
Mark Jenkins, an A-Zone co-op member and ParIT worker, explained some of the difficulties that the Albert Street collective encountered along the way, including issues with lenders and a last-minute tenant drop-out.
Necessary rent increases for all of the A-Zone’s member groups has also placed increased financial stress upon some of the building’s tenants, he said.
“It’s almost like that sense of relief, that ‘Oh, we did it’ feeling, can’t really be there because there’s still so much work to do,” he said.
Currently, the building houses a total of 15 different tenants, six of which - Mondragon, Winnipeg Copwatch, the Boreal Forest Network, Natural Cycle Courier, ParIT and the Rudolph Rocker Cultural Centre - comprise the A-Zone’s official co-op members.
Though some of the building’s smaller tenants lack the resources necessary to participate in the official collective, Grant explained “there’s support from every tenant (for the overall A-Zone project).”
Although it’s been a long road for one of the city’s most eclectic addresses, it’s unlikely that you’ll come across an A-Zoner who will tell you that all of the hard work involved wasn’t worth it.
Jenna Kessler, an A-Zone co-op member and Mondragon worker, perhaps encapsulates the unique organization’s infectious attitude best.
“It’s a tangible expression of people’s dream,” she said. “It’s pretty cool that it exists.”
Published in Volume 66, Number 23 of The Uniter (March 14, 2012)