Co-op backers envision Gottingen St. grocery

Local group wants to transform the north end food desert to an end by opening a community-owned grocery store.

Jean-Philippe Bourgeois wants to be able to pick up ingredients near his apartment on Gottingen Street. Photo: Tari Wilson

Jean-Philippe Bourgeois wants to be able to walk down from his apartment overlooking Gottingen Street and pick-up groceries without walking 20 minutes.

“We have everything here, there’s a post office two seconds away, a pharmacy, restaurants, comic book store, clothing stores, but there’s no grocery,” says Bourgeois of the north end.

This is something the Dalhousie student wants to change.

He is part of a steering committee pushing for a not-for-profit food store called the Community Carrot Co-op. The group is looking at opening a small store on the corner of Gottingen and Cunard Streets, selling everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to toilet paper.

The last time the North End had a major grocery store was 30 years ago, before Bourgeois was even born. Instead, convenience and ethnic food stores are scattered throughout the north end. He says he finds the markup of prices too high and doesn’t shop at these locations. The macroeconomics PhD student walks to Sobeys every Tuesday and buys the weekly groceries for his wife and one-year-old son.

“I think if I had two kids or if I was older I’d be taking a taxi. It’s 10 bucks from here to Sobeys or 20 bucks round trip. I have $100 to spend and I just have $90 to spend now…great.”

He thinks the community co-operative could be up and running in two to three years, realistically.

Dalhousie student Leah Collins Lipsett also lives in the north end and she says she hadn’t heard about the proposed co-op. She says while she’s used to walking across the Halifax Commons to get groceries she would shop at the Community Carrot Co-op if it opens.

Voting competition

Gwen McCauley is on the committee for the co-op and says they are focusing on getting a grant from Aviva Insurance’s national competition. The community projects with the most votes move on to the next qualifying round. In January, $1 million will be awarded to projects picked by judges.

McCauley found out about the competition in early October and submitted their project two days later. At the end of the last qualifying round they were in 15th place with 4215 votes. Starting on Nov. 12 the next round of competition begins and it’s the co-op’s last chance to make it into the top 10 for the semi-finals.

“People are really desperate to get something in the community, I mean there truly is a need there. Because it’s a grassroots initiative slowly but surely people are starting to respect it,” says McCauley.

If they don’t get a grant from this competition McCauley says they will look into crowd-sourced funding.

 “Even if I move in a few years I still want to be a part of this because it’s something this neighbourhood needs. Not that they just want it, but they need it,” says Bourgeois.

Other food store proposals

Home Grown Organic Foods owner Geordie Ouchterlony has proposed opening a food store location across from the Halifax North Memorial Public Library located on Gottingen Street.

Ouchterlony couldn’t be reached for comment.

Bourgeois says even if Home Grown Organic Foods was to open they’d still want to open the Community Carrot Co-op, as they want to have a grocery people feel they own and offer more affordable foods.

North end neighbourhood

The neighbourhood is mixed with a wide range of income and ages. In their submission the committee states 54 per cent of the people living in the neighbourhood are unemployed. The committee itself reflects this diversity.

“There’s disabled (people), there’s some students, business folks, retired people from the government. Most of them they just want to help,” says Bourgeois, “I really do think most students could have a large impact on this project. They could bring their skills that they’re learning right now and put them to use.”

Map of grocery stores and convenience stores around the north end.