West End Well grocery co-op in Hintonburg to open in spring

A different kind of grocery store is coming to Hintonburg this spring if building renovation work continues as scheduled. The West End Well is a co-operative that will also feature a cafe, live performances and office space, a multi-purpose room and even a small library.

Co-operative to house café, office space, live performances, workshops, cooking classes

Bill Shields, left, and Steph Kittmer, right, are standing on the second floor of the building, which will house a multipurpose room, office space and part of a kitchen. (Kristy Nease/CBC)

A different kind of grocery store is coming to Hintonburg this spring if renovation work continues as scheduled.

The West End Well is a co-operative that will also feature a café, live performances and office space, a multipurpose room for community use and even a small library.

It hopes to host cooking classes and workshops on building gardens, greenhouses, cold storage rooms and more. The café will boast 30 seats, but the main floor can be rearranged to hold 60 people for live music and readings.

The co-op hopes the Well will promote green, sustainable, neighbourhood-focused living, and that its doors will open in late May.

Co-op decided to buy, not rent

Rent is increasingly expensive in trendy Hintonburg, so after looking for a suitable lease the co-op decided to buy a building to better secure its future, says co-op co-founder and board chair Bill Shields.

The co-op purchased this building at 969 Wellington St. W. for just less than $1 million. Renovations will bring the cost up to about $1.6 million. (Kristy Nease/CBC)
"What we found is that local businesses were facing 300 and 400 per cent [rent] increases at the end of their first lease. Harvest Loaf just closed for that reason," Shields says. "And after a year of looking for space, we figured we had to create some kind of buffer. And we thought, well, the only way to do that is to buy the building."

Doing that turned out to be much easier than they thought.

With money from about 14 eager investors, the co-operative in August purchased a two-storey, red-brick building at 969 Wellington St. W. — near Somerset Street West — worth just less than $1 million.

Renovations taking place now will bump up the cost to about $1.6 million.

"It's a pretty secure investment in real estate," Shields says. "We're going to be inside the 400-metre circle from the LRT station. The city's plan is that that little strip of Wellington Street ... will be the primary pedestrian and cycling access to the LRT station.

"So even if you didn't care about the co-op, it's a pretty good real-estate investment."

Grocery to stock goods from up to 200 food producers

The main floor will house a grocery store, kitchen, café, lending library, performance space and retail booth, some of which can be rearranged to suit different uses of the space. (Kristy Nease/CBC)
Steph Kittmer, the grocery manager, says the co-op will be buying goods from many local food producers, including some organic items.

"It could be upwards of 100 [producers] ... Maybe even 200, depending on the season. Definitely more in the middle of August and September than in January," she says

She hopes the grocery will be stocked with the basics at all times, and to supplement that with local foods that are in season. They'll have dairy, produce and some meat, as well as a small bulk section of grains and other items.

The café and kitchen will be run by Jacqueline Jolliffe, who founded the Stone Soup Foodworks local organic food truck. Goods that don't look perfect will be used by the kitchen to make breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as some packaged foods prepared in house.

As the neighbourhood grows, the co-op will continually shift its focus to provide what's not available close by. And they even plan to direct customers to nearby competition if they don't have something customers are looking for.

The goal is to build a neighbourhood with local businesses that work together to provide everything people need close at hand.

"If we're going to actually shift the way we're living in this neighbourhood ... it's a 15-, 20-, 25-year venture. It's not a three-year sprint," Shields says.

"We want to build a part of the neighbourhood."