The wrecking ball will soon be swinging for the old Madley’s General Store in Haines Junction, but if the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations’ gamble works out, the community will see a new grocery store and retail centre rise from the ashes.
CAFN’s community corporation has bought the property where Madley’s currently sits. The corporation is planning to tear it down and build a new facility that will hopefully house a full grocery store, and at least a couple other retail spaces as well, explained Natalie Oles, the community corporation’s general manager.
The community corporation looked at trying to save the building and refurbish it, but the costs were just too high, Oles said.
“We did some pre-feasibility studies looking at renovating it versus decommissioning it and starting from scratch. Haines Junction needs a bit of a retail complex. For safety reasons the decision has been to decommission the existing building, and over the course of the winter you’ll see just a flat piece of property there,” Oles said.
The whole project hinges on finding tenants for any potential new building, she said. She has been talking with some potential grocers who could agree to lease the new space, but moving those discussions onto paper is the next big step, she said.
“We foresee a bit of a food venue, something hopefully towards a bit more of a healthier diet. We’re going to be seeking some other potential retail folks that would be interested in leasing. It could be anything. We could be approaching the government,” Oles said.
Haines Junction has been without a full grocery store since Madley’s closed two years ago. Since then, residents have been driving to Whitehorse to do their shopping, but it’s at least an hour and a half’s drive, one way.
Having a proper grocery store again would go a long way to helping keep Haines Junction alive, Oles said.
“It’s a vital part of the community’s needs. In addition to that, Madley’s was sort of a hub of the community, so they’ve lost that. At one point there was the easy fast foods for people just passing by. There was the banking agent and post office. It was a real social gathering place and we hope to bring that life back to the community.
“I don’t want to say the community is dying, but right now trying to urge people to move to Haines Junction is really difficult when there aren’t a lot of services here,” she said.
In February 2012, a group of Haines Junction citizens came together to try to address the lack of groceries themselves. They formed a co-op and hoped they could revive the Madley’s location with prices competitive with Whitehorse’s big box stores.
That initiative ultimately fell through, however, largely because rehabilitating the Madley’s building was just too much work for a co-op to take on, Oles said.
While the idea of a new grocery story in town is appealing to many, one man who has been trying to fill the gap himself thinks it’s a foolish idea.
“I’ll tell you this right now. These people are so tuned and programmed to go to Whitehorse to get their stuff, it’s only an hour and 20 minutes, and the road is good,” said Richard Mazur, who runs the Kluane RV Kampground.
This past fall, Mazur decided to start stocking more grocery basics like bread, milk, and other staples at his main office and gas station. He even expanded his shelf space, and brought in new freezers and fridges to store the goods.
The items have been selling, he said, but he’s not convinced that anyone can compete with the prices at Whitehorse’s Walmart or Superstore.
“They’re going to go to Whitehorse and go to the big box stores to get their essentials. Nobody’s going to do a full-fledged grocery shop here, if you went in and bought $300, $400 worth of groceries. You’re not going to do that here,” he said.
“I don’t want to disappoint anybody, but anyone who wants to open a big grocery store is just not going to make it because of Whitehorse. Look how close it is,” Mazur said.
For now, he will continue offering his modest selection of groceries, but it isn’t his main source of income and if another competitor takes that business, Mazur said he’s happy to go back to selling gas and campground sites.
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