Downtown residents get into food fight

Fred Douglas Place Residents Association wants more grocery options downtown

Richard Wilson, president of the Fred Douglas Residents Association, is unhappy with the lack of grocery store options downtown. Ethan Cable

An issue that has long galvanized young downtown residents is being taken up by another source.

The Fred Douglas Place Residents Association (FDRA), a downtown seniors group representing an apartment block at the corner of Vaughan Street and Ellice Avenue, has started a letter writing campaign seeking to reverse a wave of grocery store closures in the core area.

“The thrust for the downtown area appears to be entertainment, so people from the suburbs come downtown, they spend four hours and they’re gone,” said Richard Wilson, the 67-year-old president of the FDRA.

“We live downtown and all of a sudden our facilities, the grocery store and the other stuff we’re used to ... are gone.”

Late last year, the popular Extra Foods store on Notre Dame Avenue closed while The Bay downtown signalled it would imminently shutter the decades-old Paddlewheel restaurant, a popular haunt for downtown seniors.

The Zellers supermarket in The Bay building - one of the few fully serviced grocers in the core area - is set to close its doors by the end of the month.

Couple this with vacancies in Portage Place mall and several business closures along Ellice Avenue, and the FDRA believe downtown Winnipeg is approaching crisis level.

They are now starting a letter writing campaign, with the assistance of other downtown residents and University of Winnipeg students, to convince city hall of the same.

“The power for this change to occur lies within the students’ hands and we are asking them to make an effort to help us and themselves, by using whatever method they have for communicating this concern; Facebook, Twitter, email, letter writing,” the group wrote in a recent notice to the University of Winnipeg community.

“Let the establishment become aware of the seriousness of the lack of a fully functioning grocery store in the downtown area.”

The FDRA represents residents in the Fred Douglas Place apartment block, a large building for seniors and retirees that began operating in 1989.

According to Wilson, there are 13 original residents - several well into their 90s - who recall initial political promises made upon moving downtown, including fulsome access to amenities in Portage Place mall and The Bay.

However, recent years have proven difficult for seniors living in the block, particularly those with limited mobility.

Bob Roddy, member at large for the FDRA and a sessional instructor at the University of Winnipeg, argues limited access to healthy food diminishes personal independence for many Fred Douglas Place tenants who can no longer operate a vehicle.

“I got involved because there was a fellow here ... who asked me to be his voice,” he said.

“He can’t go shopping just by calling a cab; ... he found he could go shopping in his wheelchair at The Bay. ... What (the store’s closure) does is take away his independence and his ability to look after himself and care for himself - and he takes pride in that.” 

The recently formed Downtown Community Residents Association is helping the FDRA in their efforts.

“The loss of essential neighbourhood elements such as grocery stores fails to promote the intensification (of) high-density mixed use development in our downtown that is necessary for a thriving community,” the association writes in their template letter.

“Our downtown depends on this essential service to function, and the City of Winnipeg depends on a working downtown to sustain itself.”

Published in Volume 67, Number 22 of The Uniter (March 6, 2013)

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