Esquimalt welcomes Red Barn Market with open arms

Judging by online response to news that Red Barn Markets plans to open its sixth capital region location in Esquimalt in the spring of 2017, the township is wasting no time rolling out the welcome mat.

“I’m sooooooo happppy!” exclaimed Katrina Dwulit on Esquimalt Community Connection’s Facebook page, echoing the majority of online comments from residents.

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The 12,000-square-foot store is opening next spring at the corner of Esquimalt and Admirals roads, former site of a government liquor store that closed in 2013.

It’s the result of a retail partnership with Songhees Nation, which assumed ownership of the 0.14-hectare site as part of a land-transfer agreement with the province signed three years ago.

“I think it’s fantastic having Red Barn because it supports more locally-sourced food and that’s what our market is all about,” said Dwulit, president of the Esquimalt Farmers Market society.

Dwulit dismissed perceptions the society’s weekly non-profit community market viewed the local grocery chain as competition because of Red Barn’s emphasis on locally-sourced products.

“We know that as a market we are never going to be able to provide all ingredients to a dinner, so it’s beneficial to have another grocery store selling local ingredients,” she said.

Her society’s market in Esquimalt Town Square kicks off its new 17-week season on May 26, with two preview pop-up markets March 17 and April 21 in Archie Browning Centre.

Songhees Nation councillor Garry Albany said he sensed the excitement about potential for the site while he watched the opening of Red Barn Market’s new Oak Bay store last month.

“Someone said, ‘I wish we had one of these in Esquimalt,’ ” said Albany, sworn to secrecy at the time. “I wished I could pick up the phone and spread the word.”

Red Barn Markets co-owner Russ Benwell said his company supports cottage markets such as Esquimalt’s and didn’t rule out potentially selling products from local vendors.

“There’s a local company in Duncan that was selling soups at the Salt Spring Christmas Fair and we found out about them and carried that product in our stores chain-wide,” he said.

“We don’t want to step on anybody’s toes, and we want to be respectful to local farmers who don’t have a storefront.”

Benwell also acknowledged the significant presence Country Grocer already has, viewing its successful operation in Esquimalt Plaza as motivational.

“Country Grocer has a strong, reputable business and they’ll continue with that,” he said. “The thing with competition is it challenges everyone to raise their game.”

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said it could get busy there for awhile should the Tudor House get going on their liquor store, but she didn’t anticipate major traffic adjustments.

“There’s an opportunity for more parking in their [Tudor House] lot so we’re not too concerned about that,” she said, acknowledging “we might have to look at traffic flow” during construction.

The new market will be an integral part of the Esquimalt Village project, which reinvents 87,000 square feet of municipal land in the 1200 block of Esquimalt Road.

The completed Esquimalt Village would encompass retail, residential and office space, a new library, an education facility and open spaces for the public.

Owners of the former Tudor House, the historic pub destroyed by a fire in July, 16, 2013, have said they hoped to redevelop the 40,000-square-foot property at 533 Admirals Rd.

It would potentially incorporate a pub, housing units, a liquor store and a community garden.

Desjardins said that while township residents might benefit from projects coming on stream at Esquimalt’s most prominent intersection, Red Barn Markets’ would reach a wider audience.

“It has half of the West Shore driving by every day going into the base in some way, so that will help the business and the community having those people stop rather than clogging up the roads quite so much,” said Desjardins.

While the new grocery store’s parking lot will have room for 18 vehicles, she said the area’s “walkability score” is high enough to alleviate traffic issues increasing density could cause.

Red Barn Market’s owners estimate the new location will generate 75 new jobs, including between 15 and 20 full-timers.

“We already have people here ready to be employees,” said Songhees Nation executive director Christina Clarke. “We’ll work with Red Barn and see what training they are looking for.”

mreid@timescolonist.com

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