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Winnipeg butchers revitalize small community grocer

Harris Meats and Groceries ships 250,000 lbs.

Todd Harris acknowledged that he and his partner and brother, Tim, are going against the grain. In an era where supermarkets are getting ever larger and smaller, older stores are being closed, the Harris Family recently opened a 6,000-sq.-ft. community grocery in north Winnipeg that closed just over a year ago after more than 45 years in business. “This was a perfect opportunity for us,” said Todd Harris, who had been operating out of a warehouse for the past 80 years shipping meat and groceries to northern communities.  "We wanted to try operating a neighbourhood grocery store as well. This was the closest we could find to the Cantor’s model and the neighbourhood was crying out for a new store here.” The Cantor’s angle is important because that is where both brothers learned the grocery trade. Cantor’s may well be Winnipeg’s largest and oldest independently-owned neighbourhood grocery store. The Harris Brothers worked at Cantor’s for many years. Tim was the meat manager, and Todd the store manager when they decided to leave and strike out on their own. “We learned a lot about customer service at Cantor’s,” Harris said. The Harris Brothers currently ship 250,000 pounds of fresh meat – from local sources - and groceries per month to 10-15 remote communities. Their reach extends as far north as Iqaliut and Rankin Inlet in Nunavut. The brothers re-opened the former Foodfare store – under the name “Harris Meats and Groceries” - at the beginning of September. “The community support has been strong right from the beginning and business just keeps getting better,” Harris said. He reported that the new owners did some minor renovations such as opening up the front of the store, replacing the flooring and the shelves and bringing in all new butcher equipment. They also brought back four of the original staff members, as well as some of their warehouse people and hired a few more. Naturally, the meat department at the back is the store’s focal point. Harris Meats was recently chosen as Winnipeg’s best butcher in a survey conducted by the Winnipeg Sun. At the store, the Harrises have introduced fresh deli meats such as roast beef, roast pork and garlic sausage. Harris noted that the store shelves are not yet completely full. “We are trying to find out what people want rather than ordering a lot of stuff that is just going to sit there,” he said. ”Each week, our staff gives us lists of requests and we try to bring those products in.” The brothers employ between 40 and 456 staff at their two locations. That includes six butchers at the warehouse and two – their brother, Bob, and Todd’s son, Robert – at the store. “We think people are starting to return to smaller stores,” Harris observed. “Community is important.”

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