By Andrew Patrick
One of James Bay’s most beloved corner grocery stores has moved to a new location across from Fisherman’s Wharf. Niagara Grocery announced it would be moving into Imagine Studio Café at 31 Erie Street in late April.
It marks a new chapter for the community-based grocery store, owned by Jennifer McKimmie and Ken Winchester, who purchased the business eight years ago.
The news brought an outpouring of support from many in the community, both on social media and from those passing the newly closed storefront.
For McKimmie, it has been a personal journey that has developed over time, as the store became a community gathering place.
“We didn’t know that it was going to be a local food market hub when we first started. We had just moved to the community, so we grew with that and we became connected to people through the store,” she said.
“We’ve seen people dating, becoming pregnant, and having babies that we’ve held who are now in school. We’ve been here long enough now that we really have seen people grow. We’ve grown and our children have grown.
“This isn’t just a store. This isn’t just a community hub. This has been life-changing for us.”
Niagara Grocery’s new location will be inside Imagine Studio Café, a local venture that combines a creative studio space and café serving locally sourced food. McKimmie said the new partnership is a good fit.
“We are like-minded and committed to good food and relationships with people, so it’s an exciting pairing. There are a lot of fun things that we’re looking to do, and so we’ll grow in a different direction,” she said.
The business will offer a similar selection of local and organic produce, farm-fresh eggs, starter plants and other products, and will continue its weekly veggie box program.
As for the storefront at Niagara and Government, building owners Seamus McKeating and Jennifer Gunter plan to open a new store that maintains much of the same product line and community spirit nurtured by Niagara Grocery.
Gunter explained that it was Niagara Grocery’s focus on local producers and community relationships that led the couple to purchase the property when it was in danger of being sold to a developer in 2015.
“I remember when we first came, I said to Seamus ‘I love that store. It has everything I want and nothing I don’t want.’ And that stuck in my head,” she said. “Jen (McKimmie) had done such a good job of sourcing all the different products, and that was the kind of food that we wanted to eat, too.”
McKeating and Gunter’s commitment to local producers has come, in part, from owning a small farm and restaurant near Kaslo, on the shores of Kootenay Lake.
The couple said the new store will feature a renovated interior and expanded outdoor seating-area, with places to park both your bike and dog. They hope to open for business sometime in May.
McKeating said he is excited that Niagara Grocery and Imagine Studio Café will expand the community-focused vision in that corner of James Bay.
“I really feel like we need more of these little neighbourhood stores. They’re really good for people in a lot of ways,” he said. “It’s the way it always was until just a few generations ago when we started doing these big box stores.”
As for McKimmie, she is thankful for the years of support from the neighbourhood and is looking forward to the new venture on Erie Street.
“I’m a better person for having been part of this community and I’m proud to be part of their moment in time. I really look forward to being in another part of the community and growing new relationships and spreading the food love.”