Museum Musings: Prince Albert Co-operative Store

Photo courtesy of the Bill Smiley Archives. The Co-op store which used to be located at the corner of 14th Street and Central Avenue.

I wonder how many readers will remember the Mid-West building on 2nd Avenue West, just south of 16th Street.  I recall when it housed Mid-West Hatcheries and, later, Mid-West Fishing Tackle.  In the early 1970s, Dale Yoos had a furniture store in the building.  I am too young, however, to recall the Prince Albert Co-op store being in the building.

The first Prince Albert Co-op store opened for business on 2nd Avenue West on May 1st, 1940.  Located at 1535 – 2nd Avenue West in a little metal-covered warehouse measuring 24 feet long (approximately 7.2 metres) and 16 feet wide (nearly 4.9 metres), it sold gasoline, oil, greases, feed, and flour.  There were 153 members, and the Association president was Thomas P. Mooney.

Just a year later, the Prince Albert Co-op Association opened its new store in the Mid-West building at 16th Street and 2nd Avenue West.  The new store, described in the Daily Herald as “brightly lit”, offered a wide variety of groceries, fruit, flour, feed, and accessories.  Now with nine employees, including two managers, the Co-op was serving more than 1,000 members. 

The previously offered gasoline and oil were still available, but from a separate outlet on the north side of 16th Street.  Where the previous storage capacity had been 6,750 gallons of gasoline (slightly more than 30,685 litres), the new depot had a capacity of 25,000 gallons (slightly more than 113,650 litres).  This outlet also carried some new lines, including coal and twine.

J.D. Howard was in charge of the store, and H.M Ching managed the service station.  The president of the Association in 1941 was Olaf Engebregtson.

At the annual general meeting of the Association in April 1953, it was reported that revenues for the Association had been increasing year by year.  The 1952 revenue was double the previous year, and it was anticipated that they would be triple the 1951 revenues by year end.  Part of this growth was put down to the “modern” facilities opened in 1941, and part of the growth was attributed to the willingness of people to take part in a cooperative economy.

On April 2nd of 1953, Percy Avram, the manager of the Prince Albert Co-operative Association, announced the purchase of a lot, bought through the Bradshaw-Holroyde Agency, on the southeast corner of 14th Street West and Central Avenue, and a plan to build an ultra-modern store there.  The plans for the store were in the hands of the engineers, and work was scheduled to begin no later than mid-summer.  The store would have a 63 – foot frontage (just over 19 metres) on Central Avenue and be 100 feet deep (nearly 30.5 metres) on 14th Street.  The project was estimated to come at a cost of $125,000, which would be born by the 1200 Prince Albert Association members, and would result in a store that would handle groceries, meats, and hardware.  There would also be a cafeteria and a ladies’ lounge.

The Co-op store remained in that location for fewer than ten years, growing in financial strength from year to year.  It was on Tuesday, June 23rd, 1959, that the Prince Albert Daily Herald had a page three headline which read: “Co-op Association to Seek Property for New Store”.  The story beneath the headline indicated that at that evening’s City Council meeting they would receive a request from the general manager of the store, W.C. Glauser, for the purchase of certain city owned property in the area of Central Avenue and 9th Street East, and that a new retail store for the Association would be constructed in that vicinity.

The following day, the newspaper reported in a front-page story that the Co-op was to build a new $600,000 store, and that all the existent buildings on the east side of Central Avenue from 8th Street to 9th Street would be demolished.  These buildings included the Central Hotel, the Novasad property, a house behind the hotel, the Webster property, and a taxi stand.  Several of these properties were already vacant, with the exception of two of them one being the Novosad home.  Ken Novosad was the proprietor of Western Market, while Lesia Novosad was a teacher at Central School.  The house identified as being “behind the hotel” was the home of Ken Wooton, a barber who worked at Madison Barber Shop.

City Council was required to approve the sale of land owned by the city on the proposed Co-op property, which they agreed to sell for $8,000, as well as to sell the opening to the employees’ parking lot which was situated on 1st Avenue East between 9th and 10th Streets.  This latter property was required in order for there to be sufficient land available for the construction of the new Saskatchewan Liquor Board store.  Previously, this building was to be built on the north side of 9th Street, west of the Minto Arena.

The Co-op would purchase the home of Mrs. M. Boettcher at 905 – 9th Street East and, along with the city property which provided access to the employee’s parking lot, this property would be swapped with the provincial government for the construction of the liquor store.  The land swap would then provide the Co-op with land on 9th Street extending from Central Avenue to the western property line of the Minto Arena.

The new outlet was expected to serve Prince Albert and district with 16,000 to 18,000 square feet (nearly 1490 square meters to 1675 square metres) of floor space.  The store would have a full basement, and there would be a hard surfaced parking lot with space for approximately 175 vehicles.  Gasoline pumps would be installed in the parking lot.

Glauser indicated that the plans for the new store would be drawn up as soon as possible, now that it was known how large a space with which they would have to work.  The store could be designed now to fit the property.  In the meantime, demolition of the old buildings would begin as soon as any present tenants were able to vacate them.  Glauser suggested that this would likely be within a month’s time.  He further indicated that this should result in completion of construction in the summer of 1960.

Glauser’s timeframe was not accurate.  The Daily Herald carried a photograph in the February 23rd, 1960 newspaper of the demolition of the Central Hotel.  His estimated cost of construction was also somewhat low.  In providing forecasting construction expenditures in Prince Albert in the year 1960, the city’s administration listed the estimated cost of the Co-op store in March 1960 as being $700,000.

Today, the Prince Albert and Area Co-op is known as Lake Country Co-op, with over 53,000 members in twenty communities.  The growth which occurred in its early years has continued, and the cooperative movement continues to serve Prince Albert and area in even more ways than it did in 1940.