Grocery store openings are always an exciting time for new owners and the surrounding community. But, few elicit the pride and joy of the new food store on the Blood Reserve in southern Alberta.
"This store isn't just bringing fresh food into our community for the first time, it's creating jobs and helping to keep our money here," said tribe spokesperson Rick Tailfeathers of the new store, which is 40 kilometres southwest of Lethbridge. "This is something really big for our community."
Officially opened Dec. 3, the Kainai Marketplace has the makings of a modern, full-service grocery store. Built with a $6.2-million mix of tribal, provincial and bank-loaned money, the 12,000-square-foot facility features fresh meat, produce, bakery and deli, and employs around 30 Blood Tribe members.
According to Tailfeathers, it is the first grocery store in the community since a short-lived, Blood-owned food store in the 1970s.
"People here have always had to drive an hour or more roundtrip to buy groceries in off-reserve communities like Lethbridge or Fort Macleod ," he said.
Prior to the store opening, residents without cars had to rely on higher priced and less nutritious processed and packaged foods sold by two local gas station/convenience stores.
"Our health department did a study that found an obvious need for fresh food," said Tailfeathers.
That study pushed council to elaborate a business plan that led to the store's construction last summer.
The Grocery People, which is owned by Federated Co-operatives, is supplying the Kainai Marketplace with product.
According to George Hillier, the store's assistant general manager and meat manager, business has been brisk since the soft opening Sept. 26, especially for some specific food items.
"Flank meat sells really well," said Hillier, a Newfoundlander who has lived in Western Canada since the late 1990s and worked for various grocers, including Safeway and the Prince Albert Co-op. "People here like the bigger cuts."