Downtown grocery stores struggling to find hold

With many downtown Saskatoon grocery stores struggling to keep their doors open, there has been a hole left in the downtown landscape.

A grocery store downtown would benefit not only those who live in the area, but also the downtown district as a whole. It would come as a huge benefit to those living there, not only for the convenience of it, but also for increased food security for those finding themselves without transportation around the city or those with mobility issues.

Downtown Grocery - Jeremy BritzFilling this gap in the downtown would also make the area a more viable place for one to get all of their shopping done at once and would likely attract business to the stores in the area. Those looking for residence in Saskatoon could then begin to see downtown as a much more positive option if they do not have to commute to a grocery store.

Students living in the downtown area could also reap the benefits from a grocery store. Many students do not have access to a personal vehicle, making longer distance traveling a very prominent detractor from wanting to live downtown.

However, a major problem that grocery stores in downtown Saskatoon have faced in the past is the lack of patronage compared to stores in the suburbs. While it could be argued that if more people lived in the downtown area, these grocery stores would see more success, many make the counter-argument that it would take a grocery store to get more people to live there in order to even make the grocery store financially feasible.

This is the major barrier to a grocery store opening up downtown and the paradoxical situation is a tricky one to figure out. No major grocery store chain would want to open a location in a place where the demographic they need to succeed just isn’t perceived to be there.

Another problem with this scenario is that, due to the higher rent in the downtown area, grocery stores either need to have a large customer base or raise their prices. Thus with the demographic just not being there yet, these stores are forced to raise their prices, which can drive customers to shopping in the suburbs where rent — and the price of food — is cheaper.

However, initiatives to bring increased food supply to the downtown area are still attempting to gain headway. The City Park Community Association has expressed the possibility of co-operatively owning a grocery store with residents, which would not only allow for residents to have access to food closer to home, but due to the nature of a co-operative venture, they would also have some say in the running of the grocery store.

Saskatoon City Council is also looking into the issue and has begun a market sounding for the area in order to gauge the viability of a grocery store. The findings of this sounding will be reported back to City Council by the end of May 2017.

With 15,000 new residents expected to move into downtown Saskatoon over the next 20 years, it also may just be a matter of time before a major grocery store is seen in the downtown area. New residents would solve the lack of profitability that many grocers have faced in that area and would lend to the profitability of such a business.

Overall, a downtown grocery store seems to be almost inevitable. With expansion on the horizon and the gap that exists in food availability for residents of the area, it is expected that eventually a grocery store could come to fruition.

Photo: Jeremy Britz / Photo Editor