Downtown Winnipeggers working it out without a major grocery store: Survey

People who live in downtown Winnipeg are finding ways to get food in their neighbourhood, according to the initial results of a new survey.

Early results show shops are stepping in to fill gaps, find niches

A survey is looking at the grocery-buying habits of people who live in downtown Winnipeg. (Sam Martin/CBC)

People who live in downtown Winnipeg are finding ways to get food in their neighbourhood, according to the initial results of a new survey.

The Downtown Winnipeg Food Access Survey is part of Larissa Blumenschein's thesis. The University of Manitoba graduate student in city planning is asking people who live downtown about how they get their food.

"There is a lot of talk and a lot of things going downtown right now with new developments coming up," she said.

"I think one of the main issues that has come up for a lot of people is there is no grocery store downtown."

A 2015 CBC analysis showed that there was a 30-square-kilometre area in the heart of the city where no major grocers operated.

Blumenschein started the survey part of her research a few months ago and said she was surprised to get a mixed bag of responses about grocery store access.

"It depends on who responds, but some people say they do find there is good food access downtown. You just have to know where to go, maybe it's not a Safeway but there are places where you can purchase groceries," she said.

"Other responses say, 'There's nothing here. I leave the community get my groceries because there is no Safeway.'"

'They tailored what they were selling'

There are a handful of corner stores and small, independently owned grocery stores in the area. Blumenschein said another interesting part of her results is seeing how those places adapt to meet the changing needs of the community.

"There was one store that sold injera bread, the Ethiopian-style bread, because I guess that was very popular. So they tailored what they were selling to who was living in the area," she said.

Blumenschein said she was also surprised to see the number of respondents who said parking wasn't a priority for their grocery needs.

"You know a lot of people do drive in Winnipeg so I kind of expected a lot of people to be like 'I need a parking spot,' you know, 'I always drive to get my groceries.' But that has actually been pretty even," she said.

The research is ongoing and Blumenschein is hopeful more people will contribute to the online survey. She said it will all be compiled for her thesis throughout the summer and in the end she'd like to see it used to planning discussions for the area.

"I am hoping that it's something that could maybe contribute [to] planning discussions and urban design on how to design healthier downtown communities," she said.

"There are a lot of things that can be done but you have to look at the city that you are dealing with, what they need and the people that live there and what their wants and needs are."