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Winnipeg's legendary grocer, Joe Cantor dies at 88

A trailblazer in the industry, Joe Cantor fought to scrap the minimum price of milk across the country in the 1980s

Winnipeg grocery-store legend Joe Cantor of Cantor's Meats and Grocery died Saturday at age 88 from a massive heart attack on his way home.

Ed Cantor, who now manages the grocery, said his father died shortly after leaving the store at the end of the business day.

"It is a shock to all of us," he said. "He left a few minutes after six, just after he saw the totals of the sales for the day."

Joe Cantor and twin brother, Oscar, took over their dad's grocery business in the mid-1940s and expanded it with a new building on Logan Avenue almost four years ago.

For decades, Cantor's smiling face and outgoing personality greeted customers and encouraged them to keep coming back. They were also drawn by the store's prices–especially on milk and bread.

"My dad always believed in selling milk and bread below cost because it is basic food," Ed  said.

It caused Cantor to run afoul of the province because in the mid-1980s he was selling quarts of milk for 16 cents less than the minimum price allowed by law. He won the fight and the province eliminated minimum prices for milk.

Ed said his dad also sparred with the Freshwater Fish Marketing Board because he wanted to sell fish he purchased directly from the fishers.

An indication of his entrepreneurial nature was when Cantor began shipping bulk meat to a location in Thompson, Man., after learning that many people from that area were travelling to Winnipeg to shop at his store.

Cantor's daughter, Merle Rosenberg, said her dad's dream was always "to stay at the store until it closed. He got a rush from that."

Rosenberg said her dad's love for the store was brought home to her when her parents once cut short a vacation in Hawaii.

"Five days after they left he called and said they were coming back. He said, 'What on Earth can you do in Hawaii after five days?' His store was everything."

Joe Cantor came with his family from Poland when he was a child.  They came in the 1920s with virtually nothing and he created a landmark with his brother which is still thriving.

John Scott, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers, said, "the industry has lost a true character who enjoyed delighting customers – as unique an entrepreneur as Canada grocery sector has ever witnessed."

Cantor was predeceased by Leah, his wife of 47 years, 10 years ago. Besides his four children, he is survived by an older brother and sister–also twins–and seven grandchildren.

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