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Meat me in Thompson

A Winnipeg independent takes a long drive and finds new business

The people of Thompson, northern Manitoba’s largest community, are facing a food shortage, in a manner of speaking.

The town’s Extra Foods store closed at the end of June, leaving just one Canada Safeway and a Giant Tiger to feed the community of about 13,000 and a trading area population of about 50,000.

Fortunately for Thompsonites, Cantor’s Grocery, a nine-hour drive south, in Winnipeg, has stepped in, providing weekly deliveries of meat and other groceries to the city at prices that its owner says are lower than what northern Manitobans are used to paying.

Located in Winnipeg’s west end, Cantor’s Grocery is one of the city’s oldest family-owned supermarkets. It has been on the same lot since 1946 and just a few years ago built a new store there.

Cantor’s link to Thompson came about through Gilbert Kohlman, its meat department manager. Kohlman and his brother ran a store in Thompson, but got out of the business two years ago “because it was too expensive to operate,” he says.

It was Kohlman’s contacts that opened the door for Cantor’s in Thompson earlier this year. In addition, Kohlman represented Cantor’s at a trade show in  ompson in early May and reconnected with many of his former customers.

One of the first things Cantor’s did before shipping to  Thompson was make an arrangement with the Juniper Centre (a non-profit workshop for adults with developmental disabilities) to serve as a drop-off point for deliveries. Cantor’s pays workers there a small sum to notify customers when their orders are in.

Cantor’s has also installed several freezers to store the orders. "The orders come in by phone, fax or e-mail and payment is by credit card,” says store manager Ed Cantor. “We ship the orders out once a week by truck.”

Initial orders were primarily meat, which Cantor’s is known for among Winnipeggers. “We are shipping 2,000 pounds of meat a week to Thompson,” Cantor says.

His store charges $6.49 a pound for T-bone steaks, about five dollars a pound less than what northern residents normally pay, he says.

Jamie Weller, the Juniper Centre’s director, says that the demand for Cantor’s orders has grown weekly. Cantor says that more people are now adding other groceries with their meat orders.

Shipping north isn’t all new for Cantor’s. It has delivered food to Nunavut and isolated aboriginal communities in Manitoba for more than a decade.

“Up until a couple of years ago, the federal government would pay 50 cents a pound for freight being sent via Canada Post to these communities,” says Cantor’s owner, Joe Cantor. “Perimeter Airlines now flies our orders to isolated communities. Even without the subsidy, we can still charge less than the local stores up there.”

Cantor’s long-distance trade may expand again soon. It has been getting delivery requests from Flin Flon, a northern mining community close to the Saskatchewan border. “We expect to start deliveries to Flin Flon before long, too,” Ed Cantor says.

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