New Co-op food store coming to Skidegate

Co-op members vote 83 per cent in favour of borrowing towards new, larger store.

Goodbye crowded aisles, hello deli, bakery, and more fresh food.

Members of the Haida Gwaii Co-op have voted 83 per cent in favour of borrowing $6 million toward building a new food store in Skidegate.

It’s welcome news to anyone who has ever shopped on sale day at the existing Skidegate store, says Co-op board member Lisa Edwards.

“Our co-op there is just too small,” she said, speaking before a special vote in Masset last Tuesday that followed similar meetings in Skidegate and Sandspit a week before.

“And this is to expand the Co-op as a whole,” she added.

Opened in 1992, the existing store is roughly half the size of the new one planned for the 1.5-acre site north of the Skidegate rock quarry by Highway 16.

Once built, the new store will be slightly larger than the Co-op food store in Masset, and will feature large Haida-style cedar beams, two of them carved.

Besides a deli, bakery, and seating area, the store will have more cheese, meat and produce displays inside, plus backfilled dairy shelves, even hot curry and roast chicken for sale.

Outside, the store will have a raised freight door so container trucks can unload without a forklift, not to mention 81 parking spaces for customers and staff.

“I think we’re lucky if there’s 20 parking spots at the current store,” said Richard Clarmont, general manager.

Bob Isaacs, president of the Haida Gwaii Co-op, said the new Skidegate store will need 13 more staff, meaning its payroll will rise from $640,000 to about $916,000 a year.

The total cost to build the new store is about $7.5 million, but after reviewing the business plan, Federated Co-operatives Limited offered to pay $1.5 million when it opens.

Isaacs said a feasibility study done by an independent market research team found the $6 million loan will be repaid within 10 years.

“Financially, we’re in way better shape this time around,” said Clarmont, comparing the new Skidegate food store with the one built 15 years ago in Masset.

Back in 2006, Clarmont said neither the Skidegate food store nor the Masset home centre were making money. For three years, Co-op members had to go without their annual equity cheques.

Still, sales later improved enough at all three Co-op locations that the Masset loan was finally repaid last year, making the Co-op debt-free two years ahead of schedule.

Altogether, the Haida Gwaii Co-op had a record $13.9 million in sales last fiscal year, and this year, the Skidegate location is projected to do $5 million in sales — twice what it did 10 years ago.

“It’s doubled in sales in the same building,” said Clarmont. “So it has totally outgrown its size.”

Clarmont said construction could start as early as this fall, once the rock blasting at the quarry is finished and the contractors are hired (architects were hired last week). The Co-op expects to have just one year of operating losses — the year the new store opens — meaning Co-op members will likely have one year without equity cheques.

But by year two, the Co-op should be breaking even, before returning to growing revenue increases in following years.

The Co-op will own the new store but will lease the property from the Skidegate Band Council for 30 years with a 19-year option after that.

Skidegate council plans to develop extra tenant space on the site, and will develop the paving, curbs, and the left- and right-turn lanes leading to the new location. The quarry just south of the new site will cease operations, and some of the quarry face will need shoring up.

Speaking just after the final vote of 257 “for” and 57 “against” was counted, Co-op board member Bret Johnston said, “The bottom line here is folks in the south end deserve a store like we’ve got.”

“Well, up here we deserve a store like that down there,” replied Hank Taggart, a fellow board director.

“It will benefit all of us.”