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Why Does Ottawa Not Shop for Groceries in the Byward Market Anymore?

Why Does Ottawa Not Shop for Groceries in the Byward Market Anymore?


By Brian Clarke

Last week, I posted a comment on an Ottawa Citizen article talking about the future and vision of Ottawa’s Byward Market. One of the things mentioned in the Citizen article that I sort of took for granted in my response was the idea that no one goes to the Byward Market for their daily food needs anymore.

Later that day, I was helping my grandmother pick out a new fridge and we somehow got to talking about how freezers have changed over the years.  She mentioned how when she was a kid, most fridges didn’t even have full freezers – they had a small ice box at best – because people did not need freezer space.  Frozen dinners did not exist and most people bought their perishable food items every 3 days or so.

And then – in the Leon’s parking lot – I started to wonder…

Why don’t people go to their local market (be it the Byward or Parkdale) every day for their daily needs anymore? The obvious answer is ‘we live in Barrhaven’, but a close second is that it is too time consuming and expensive.

These ideas seemed so obvious and taken-for-granted that I quickly dismissed the idea of daily grocery shopping as being impractical – as much as I stress buying local and eating fresh ingredients and as much as I love cooking, I am 100% conditioned into the modern ‘buy-your-stuff-at-the-grocery-store’ once per week mentality.  It is simply too expensive and too time consuming in a modern world to go to the market every 1-3 days.

However, sometimes it is fun to question an idea we take for granted. Is it really too expensive and time consuming? Why do we value our time so much and dead set on doing everything as quickly and efficiently as possible? Why are we so attached to the idea that groceries are a burden and we need to limit the time and money we spend on them as much as possible? Now, these seem like stupid questions to ask but I think it’s necessary to ask questions that seem dumb in order to really think about how things could be different.  Take a moment to really ponder them.

If I’m not coming off as a stupid at this point, and you’ve really tried to do this thought experiment, luckily there is actually quite a bit of research (both journalistic and academic) that has tackled these difficult questions.  If you want to think and read further, try searching ideas such as “convenience culture” and the “Slow Food Movement”.

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However, the point of sharing my thought process here is to ask: is it possible to somehow encourage people to use the Byward Market as a daily grocery market once again?  How would this affect the future of the Market and develop the local community and economy?

Now, I know I’m not persuasive enough to convince you as an individual to stop shopping at Loblaw’s and start using the Byward Market.  I am fully aware of these practical realities that make it near impossible to agree on an individual level to do this.  You would have to be incredibly passionate about local food and the Byward Market in order to willingly take the time (and pay a bit more) to buy your groceries from a farmer’s market or a local butcher on a daily basis.

However, what if there was a community group that did this together? It’s much easier to get excited about doing something for the local community when there is a community aspect and feel to it.  It’s much easier to stay accountable when you have fellow shoppers with you the whole time.

If it is organized well, I imagine that this could get some decent local interest.

But, alas, this was just the start of my thinking while my head was in the clouds that afternoon in the Leon’s parking lot. Much more thought – and more posts to come – would need to be put into it to really refine these ideas.

I haven’t really planned on this becoming a series or a column, but rather just a reflection of my scattered thoughts on the topic.  Like any complex issue, the future of the Byward Market takes time, thought and discussion.

So, for now, I ask that anyone who has made it through this whole (very long) post to really think about whether this is possible and how things could be different – without getting sucked into the ‘there’s no time in today’s world’ mentality.  Please share your thoughts on our Facebook page or in the comment section below, as I would love to generate a good discussion of passionate locals on the issue. And over the next few weeks, I hope to develop this idea further with at least two more related articles: a look at similar slow/local food movements in other Canadian cities, and an experiment with going to the Market myself for a day’s grocery needs.


Kate on August 15, 2013 AT 12 pm

As a resident of the Byward Market, I love shopping for fresh, local food. I wish I could do it more! For produce, I find it challenging because many of the stalls close up around 5 — and it’s not always possible to get out of the office in time. That leaves only one other option really, The Byward Fruit Market shop, which is open until 6 most days. The butchers and bakeries also close around 6, give or take an hour depending on the day. And there you have it, a really simple reason of why I don’t shop as much as I’d like to in the Market. We still venture there on the weekends, but we try to do it quickly as possible because the crowded slow-moving sidewalks can be slightly frustrating.

What pains me is that so much Market space is used up by restaurants and take-out places. We were so disappointed when Olive + Chili opened up in the big corner space. Just another prepared food option (and an expensive one at that!).

If the Byward Market wants to regain viability, it has to try and compete with the convenience of a 24-hour Metro and Loblaws on Rideau Street. Extending business hours until even 7 p.m. would make a world of difference. Would it not be possible to open an hour later (many stalls/shops are open around 8 a.m.) and extend the evening hours? Some shops, such as Aux Délices, Sasloves and the cheese shop have extended hours until 8 p.m., but only on Thursdays/Fridays for the summer.

I hope the Byward Market BIA continues to think of ways it can make shopping fresh and local more convenient for the growing community of residents in the immediate area.

Deek on August 15, 2013 AT 12 pm

I LOVE to shop in the market. Not only cause I live and work here, but because it’s a more enjoyable shopping experience, I buy less crap, and I spend less money. Yes, I must take my plastic out more than once, and (OH NO) CASH MONEY sometimes is required, but we make do! The thing that gets me is the hours! I work 10-6, and I often miss out on shopping in the smaller stores because of that. I can be seen at 5:55pm, running up and down ByWard Market, trying to piece together the few items I need for a meal that night. Last night, I forgot something, and had to go to the Metro to get it – and ended up spending $90!!!! Sure, we’ll eat the food, but going to a large grocery store requires amazing amounts of self control! I’d rather only have access to fruits, veg, meat, cheese, and bread. That’s all I need to create a fabulous meal for my boyfriend and I. I love to cook and create meals, and I like to follow the food guide when I eat. The grocery store is great, once a month. TRY shopping locally, even just for a week. If the stores on ByWard would adjust their hours to accommodate the lives of the people who live in the Market, and not for the tourists, I think they would see the increase they’re missing. The thing is, if the 5/6 stores that make up a grocery store don’t all commit, it’s a wasted trial. Butcher, Fish, Bakery, Cheese, and Veg, throw the Wine Rack in, and it’s a FANTASTIC way to fill your fridge!!
If the focus of marketing was on the 60,000+ people who live in the market, throw in those who work in the market, then yes it’s TOTALLY WORTH the effort. Forgot the people who aren’t coming here anyways. Forgot the nay-sayers, the negative Nancys, and those who don’t care – they’re never going to be convinced that shopping local is worth it, and they’ll always find something to complain about: parking, homeless, price, and time. But those of us who live here deserve the chance to see our Market revamped and brought up to date with the lives of people in the 21st century. All you suburban dwellers can have your Loblaws and Costcos, let us have our Saslove’s, Lapointe’s, and Aux Delices bakeries. These are hard-working people who own their small business and deserve to be in business in Ottawa. The city needs to stop approving every single market that gets passed in front of them. They need to put some money, time, and effort into the ByWard Market and we’ll see the changes happen.

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