After over a year of delays, Winnipeg’s North End is less than two weeks from seeing its own version of The Forks fully open and ready for business.

The redeveloped Neechi Commons has already begun selling fresh produce and baked goods and soon it will be fully operational.

The $5 million project that was lauded for its commitment to hiring aboriginal people and revitalizing the area took three years of extensive redevelopment work, when officials only banked on two.

"[We had some barriers, and then we would overcome that and keep going and overcome more," said Louise Champagne, the president of the Neechi Co-Op.

The new location at 865 Main St. will replace the co-op’s old location of 24 years on Dufferin Avenue.

The fully redeveloped Neechi Commons will have grocery, bakery and catering departments, as well as a butcher shop, specialty-foods boutique, art gallery and artisan market.

"We really want to bring in as much local vegetables and produce as we can but keeping in mind the pressures to keep our prices as affordable as possible," said Ian Brynjolson, the store’s produce manager.

North End grocery options scant

The store is aiming to fill a void in the North End community, where affordable and fresh grocery options can be difficult to find.

"As long as people stick to the co-op label and the co-op generic label, then prices are competitive," said Champagne.

North End resident Cheryl Manoakeesick had to walk 20 minutes just to get to her nearest grocery store. Complicating matters, Manoakeesick had to take her two small children with her on each trip.

The opening of Neechi Commons has changed that.

"It is important because I have to walk all the way over there in the cold, but here it’s just a block away," said Manoakeesick.

"I come buy these jugs of milk all the time for my baby."

Co-op offers employment

Besides groceries, the co-op will offer fresh food made in-store and like The Forks, local retailers will be able to sell their arts and crafts in the commons.

"They get paid in store credits. It means we are marketing their product, and they are buying their food in the grocery store and supporting this business," said Champagne.

The co-op has also filled 40 positions with people who live in the area.

"We had a job fair on Oct. 4. We had over 350 people apply on that one day alone," said Brynjolson.

"That goes to show you the need for good, dignified jobs in this community."

Neechi Commons still has empty shelves to fill but will have a grand opening ceremony on March 20.