A “community first” approach
The historic Métis village of Ile-a-la-Crosse has faced long-term challenges accessing the goods and services locals need. For years, community members were underserved by a local convenience store and a Northern Store that offered limited options. Many community members travel to Prince Albert, Saskatoon, and Meadow Lake to source goods from larger retailers, which limits re-investment and opportunity locally.
In 2017, community leaders began looking for an alternative. They started working with Co-operatives First to create a locally-owned co-operative that could operate a full-service grocery store. Local leaders identified possible wholesalers, explored partnership opportunities, and consulted their community. By the end of 2019, the steering committee was confident they had the community’s support and incorporated Ile-a-la-Crosse Co-operative Association Limited. As a registered consumer co-op, and anyone can become a member for $10.
The co-op’s board worked with Arctic Co-operatives Limited, a co-op wholesaler headquartered in Winnipeg, to negotiate supply agreements and membership in ACL’s member network. The board also hired a consultant to build a business plan to ensure the cost of a new facility would be covered by local demand. Once complete, this business plan was used to secure $1,576,000 in grants and loans from:
- Primrose Lake Community Development Corp: $130,000 grant
- Beaver River Community Futures: $25,000 grant and $50,000 loan
- Saskatchewan Métis Economic Development: $250,000 grant, $138,000 equity loan, and $983,000 loan
On June 20th, 2022 the co-op opened the doors of its 6,000-square foot facility. The co-op sets key goals for itself as a “community-first” organization. The board committed to paying a living wage for its 18 team members, exploring product lines that would support members, and seeking opportunities to help local entrepreneurs. A key step in this direction was the signing of a memorandum of understanding with the Sakitawak Elders Group – a commitment to support the priorities of the community’s Elders. It delivered on one of these priorities, partnering with Innovation Credit Union to open a member services centre in the co-op on November 15, 2023.
For more information, check out this case study by Kyle White and Murray Fulton: