Songhees First Nation, Red Barn in grocery deal for Admirals Road

Esquimalt residents will have another grocery shopping alternative by as early as the spring of 2017.

On Monday, Red Barn Markets and Songhees Nation representatives confirmed they’ve formed a retail partnership that will see a 12,000-square-foot-plus store open in Esquimalt’s downtown core next year.

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The new store, Red Barn Market’s sixth location in the capital region, will be at the corner of Esquimalt and Admirals roads, on the site of a former B.C. government liquor store that closed in the summer of 2013.

As part of a land-transfer agreement signed three years ago between the Songhees Nation and provincial government, the First Nation assumed ownership of the 0.14-hectare location.

The newest location for the chain will include its popular sandwich and ice-cream bars, in addition to locally sourced products, said Russ Benwell, one of Red Barn’s principal owners. He was joined at the announcement by Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins, Ron Sam, elected chief of Songhees Nation, and fellow owners Peter Hansen and Ashley Bourque.

“I won’t have to go as far now to get a famous Red Barn sandwich,” joked Sam. “This is something we envisioned as a community, and when Red Barn presented itself, it was an opportunity I didn’t want to lose as a nation.”

He credited Equitex Property Management, Songhees Nation executive director Christina Clarke and councillors Garry Albany and Frank George with working diligently with Red Barn Market’s team for more than two years to pull the deal together. Songhees Nation originally hired Equitex to manage the Songhees Wellness Centre and it now manages its other properties.

“Our board really wanted to be sure it was something that fit the community,” he said. “I know Red Barn and what they stand for and bring to a community, and we’ll support them any way we can.”

There will be 6,106 square feet on the main floor and 6,327 square feet downstairs in the building, which was purpose-built in 1957 as a government liquor store, said Equitex property manager Andrew Achtymichuk.

While the Songhees Nation considered a number of lease offers, including ones from national chains and an auto-parts business, Clarke said they felt it was worth waiting for the right tenant. “Some offers made economic sense, but they didn’t make social sense,” she said, noting they turned down an auto-parts business because they didn’t want to adversely affect a local marine auto-parts business.

The locally owned Red Barn, which operates its own smokehouse on Vanalman Avenue, opened its most recent store, a 6,000-square-foot-plus market on Oak Bay Avenue, just a few weeks ago. The company produces a variety of products, including bacon, turkey sausages and smoked cheese.

“We found there was a bit of an under-service, in our opinion, to the [Esquimalt] area,” said Benwell, who estimated the operation could generate between 15 and 20 full-time jobs.

“We identified Esquimalt as a place we wanted to do business from a long-term standpoint, and be able to offer things back to the community.”

Describing the arrival of Red Barn Market as “a huge positive for the community,” Desjardins said it’s the type of business the township has been looking for. She said she appreciated the time and care the Songhees Nation had taken to ensure “this very prominent corner” would have a suitable business.

“It was a couple of years in the making, but you can’t rush a good thing,” said Benwell.

Grocery shoppers in Esquimalt are currently served by outlets that include Country Grocer in Esquimalt Plaza and the non-profit Esquimalt Market, which operates Thursdays behind Esquimalt library in summer.

“I don’t see it as a threat. I see it as an adjunct,” said Desjardins, adding that Esquimalt Market, which is as much about community spirit, togetherness and entertainment as food, could thrive in a different location.

“We talk about catalysts in downtown Esquimalt. This is going to be one of those catalysts. I see this as a win-win for everybody.”

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