C/O Strathcona Market

Strathcona Market opens up following Mustard Seed Co+op closure

As convenient as Fortino’s and Food Basics may be for your Tuesday grocery run, the big-box grocery stores aren’t the only available options when it comes to stocking your fridge. The newly opened Strathcona Market, located on York Blvd., is a new one-stop-shop for local food and produce just a bus ride away from Mac campus.

MRKTBOX, the company behind Strathcona Market, opened their first physical space at Dundurn Market in West Hamilton in 2018. Only six months ago, they opened Ottawa Market on Ottawa Street, now followed by the new opening of Strathcona Market. 

After the closing of The Mustard Seed Co+op in August 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Strathcona Market emerged in its spot at 460 York Blvd. to carry on the Mustard Seed’s legacy of ethically sourced local foods. Given the existing infrastructure and functionality of the space, the transition was a natural step to fill the gap left in the Hamilton community.

“It was very disappointing to hear that the Mustard Seed was closing because they were a pioneer in the local food community, creating a space for properly curated goods . . . There was clearly a loss in terms of the community and their feedback on social media, so it was an opportunity we were given that we also couldn’t pass up,” said Mackenzie Brown, Head of Produce and Communications Manager at Strathcona Market.

The new space at Strathcona Market has allowed MRKTBOX to expand their operations through much needed square footage, a new shipping and receiving center and a parking lot at the market.

Brown described the Strathcona Market as similar to a farmer’s market, operating every day, year-round. The new space functions as both a grocery store and cafe space — a hub for local produce and food.

“Strathcona Market is a multidimensional business that aims to support and uplift the local community by being a central point for local vendors, farmers and otherwise known creators in the city. We want to highlight and celebrate the sort of local food industry and almost create more food security within Hamilton and the greater area. It's hard to actually create a local food stable community unless you have businesses like ours,” explained Brown.

"Strathcona Market is a multidimensional business that aims to support and uplift the local community by being a central point for local vendors, farmers and otherwise known creators in the city."

Mackenzie Brown, Head of Produce and Communications Manager at Strathcona Market

The foods sold at Strathcona Market are sourced with an attention to local, organic and ethically produced products. All local foods come from farmers and businesses within 100 kilometers of the Hamilton area, though sourcing can be variable depending on the in-season produce available.

In the market, the kitchen team can be found manning the in-house cafe to create fresh salads, sandwiches, coffee and more using a selection of local produce.

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“You can also see a lot of Hamilton all in one spot. We have butchers from Ottawa Street, which is all the way on the East End. We have local farmers growing in the Hamilton area that sell their goods here in the summer. You can buy fresh bread from three local bakeries that are all in Hamilton. Just coming to Strathcona Market, you're getting your morning coffee and getting all the groceries that you need for the week. You're actually supporting half a dozen to over a dozen local businesses with one purchase,” said Brown.

"Just coming to Strathcona Market, you're getting your morning coffee and getting all the groceries that you need for the week. You're actually supporting half a dozen to over a dozen local businesses with one purchase."

Mackenzie Brown, Head of Produce and Communications Manager at Strathcona Market

For those unable to visit Strathcona Market’s physical space, MRKTBOX has grocery delivery services available, delivered to your doorstep. Market Boxes can be customized weekly with a new assortment of local and organic produce and artisan items for a convenient way to shop local.

For students, a visit to Strathcona Market means not only a way to get out and explore Hamilton, but also to support and give back to the local community.

By shopping local, consumers can use their economic power to mitigate the inequitable destructive effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on small businesses

In the highly divisive political and social atmosphere brought about by the pandemic, one message has been almost universally applauded: shop local. It is no secret that the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are distributed unequally.

Case in point: since the start of the pandemic, one in ten restaurants across Canada have permanently closed their doors while Canadian billionaires’ wealth has increased by over $53 billion dollars.

This is not a uniquely Canadian problem — the global debt to gross domestic product ratio has soared to a record 365 per cent, with emerging economies and developing nations bearing the greatest burden. Meanwhile, billionaires worldwide have seen their holdings mushroom by 27 per cent. A k-shaped recovery, indeed.

In Ontario, the unfairness of shuttering small businesses whilst allowing large retailers to continue to sell both essential and non-essential items has generated both confusion and outrage. However, appeals to Doug Ford’s government, such as a petition by the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses seem to have faced silence.

As the numerous inequalities are spelled out in red, we are left to determine if the uneven financial impacts of COVID are more a product of the realities of a pandemic or the discretionary actions of government. Frankly, evidence points unmistakably to the latter.

In Ontario, the harshest lockdowns prohibit indoor and outdoor restaurant service and only stores providing essential products or services are permitted to remain open. However, big-box stores that are allowed to stay open because they sell essential products are thereby able to continue selling non-essential products, wielding an unfair competitive advantage over small businesses. Why can I walk into Costco and buy clothes, but at a regular clothing store I need to order online and pick them up curbside? 

However, big-box stores that are allowed to stay open because they sell essential products are thereby able to continue selling non-essential products, wielding an unfair competitive advantage over small businesses. Why can I walk into Costco and buy clothes, but at a regular clothing store I need to order online and pick them up curbside? 

In Manitoba, this injustice was addressed by government regulations ordering that any store permitted to remain open could only sell essential products – anything else would only be available through curbside pickup. To ensure compliance, stores had to remove or rope off the non-essentials.

In November, Costco was hit with a $5000 for defying the government regulations. And in Ontario? Doug Ford assures us that he consulted with the Chief Executive Officer of Walmart Canada — but not thousands of small business owners — and concluded that forcing big-box retailers to comply with restrictions on the sale of non-essential items would be a “logistical nightmare,” so it wasn’t worth the trouble.

With the government refusing to address the inequity of closing some businesses and not others, consumers must take it upon themselves to level the playing field. This is the ethos behind “buy local.”

There are myriad benefits to shopping at local businesses: supporting the regional and national economy, ensuring the integrity of supply chains (it’s more than a little disconcerting to go to the grocery store and see empty shelves) and promoting the development of a middle class.

Unfortunately, buying local is expensive. For many people, the effort to support community businesses has become more about virtue and status signalling for the wealthy than a feasible economic alternative. Furthermore, buying products for a substantially higher cost than is necessary undermines one of the central tenets of our economic system: competition.

The benefits of marketplace competition manifest themselves in its corollary: economist Joseph Schumpeter’s creative destruction. The idea is that businesses unable to cope with current market conditions will die off and be replaced by newer ones, thereby ensuring a healthy and vigorous economy that benefits businesses as well as consumers.

The fear is, then, that the economic burden of buying local will be overly-taxing on consumers and will create an uncompetitive local economy that will impair post-pandemic recovery.

However, COVID-19 can be seen as a time of “created” and not creative destruction. Government shutdown regulations and not changing consumer preferences have altered the consumer marketplace to suit the very specific and very temporary economic conditions of the pandemic. Thus, buying the cheapest and most easily available product is not bolstering an efficient economy, it is exacerbating the unfair advantages enjoyed by large corporations in an artificial marketplace.

Post-pandemic, the government regulations will end, but the effects of our consumer behaviour during the pandemic will endure. Therefore, those who can afford to shop local should — nothing less than the long-term economic health of our communities is at stake.

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