First Retail Co-op Store In Wetaskiwin Was Open For Business Part II of III

Pipestone Flyer

    The new facilities and the many achievements of the Wetaskiwin Co-op would be an impressive awe-inspiring site for the old-timers to see. Since the purposeful beginning in 1917, the Wetaskiwin Co-op has evolved and now offers over 50,000 items and approximately $2B in inventory. And now the addition of a grocery store.

    The first settlers had raised $550 for working capital and opened a store on West Railway Street. The first retail Co-op store in Wetaskiwin was open for business and open to all. The fixtures in the store were a simple scale, hand operated coffee grinder, cheese cutter, tobacco plug cutter that looked somewhat like a small guillotine, a couple of hand scoops, wrapping string that hung from the ceiling, brown wrapping paper and bags.

    Mr. Moan's stock of canned tomatoes, prunes, syrup, lard, flour, salt, sugar, mica axle grease, kerosene, tobacco and other basic grocery items sold well.  Sales were so brisk that an assistant, Nestor Bequin was hired at $90.00 per month.  He handled the light produce and foods, while Mr. Moan managed the livestock and heavier items.

    Mr. Moan presented a manager's report in early 1918 that indicated that he had handled eleven carloads of livestock, four carloads each of seed oats and seed barley, 500 bushels of potatoes, a carload of barbed wire and groceries (flour, sugar, salt) valued at $20,012, produce (hides, eggs, butter, wool) valued at $8,040.  

    The surge in business necessitated another bold step for the Wetaskiwin U.F.A. Co-operative Association Ltd., they needed a larger premises. Across the tracks was an impressive 4 year old building, the Krogman Block. The building was part of a bankrupt estate and put up for sale because of delinquent taxes. The Wetaskiwin U.F.A. Co-operative Association Ltd. bought it for $10,000. The bank required a down payment of $1000 and collateral for the other $9000. Each of the Board of Directors jointly and individually signed to personally guarantee the payments on the building if the business could not meet the payments. The $9,000 debt on the building took only seven years to pay in full.

    World War I was over, business and membership was growing and it seemed that nothing could stop the co-operative movement.  In order to expand the business more capital was required so the Manager, Mr. A.P. Moan, guided by the Board of Directors, spear-headed a share-selling drive that garnered an astonishing $6,000.  They spent a little money to renovate the Krogman Block to make it more suitable for the grocery and dry goods business, stocked it with lots of new inventory and hired professional retailers to serve the public. Nestor Bequin and his assistant John Asp ran the grocery department

    Farm machinery, coal retailing, cream grading, handling of eggs, poultry, produce and feeds were added into the business mix.  A dry goods department under the keen eye of Marie Bengtson and a hardware division under the care of G.W. Brandenburgh were a welcome addition.

    By 1927, crowded for space, the Co-op was ready for another expansion.  They acquired more property to the east of the store building and erected a 60 by 100 foot warehouse for heavy hardware. The cost was $1800.  

    Then just as quickly as the business had boomed the Great Depression hit North America.   Wheat prices dropped to a low of twenty cents a bushel,  livestock prices hit rock bottom, people lost their jobs and hit the road seeking any kind of paying job.   Although many industries went bankrupt, through the loyalty of the membership and the staff, the Wetaskiwin Co-op managed to have a modest surplus at the end of each year.

    Around the time of the Great Depression the U.F.A. office in Calgary started advancing a group buying plan among many of its affiliated farm locals and sought support from the Wetaskiwin Co-operative.  However, they applied for a separate wholesale charter under the U.F.A. Co-op name. With two consumer organizations, with similar names, operating both retail and wholesale outlets, it split consumer strength, and consumers became confused about 2 similar organizations providing similar services. The Wetaskiwin Co-op diligently studied their options and benefits as it pertained to an affiliation with the U.F.A. but in the end, dropped the letters "U.F.A." and registered under a new name, Wetaskiwin Co-operative Association Ltd.

    World War II did not interfere with progress within the western Canadian Co-operatives. Because the combined buying power of co-operatives in Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan was so significant, the western regional co-operatives formed the Interprovincial Co-operatives Ltd.  This was the natural third stage of development for the co-operative movement.  As peoples' needs changed over the years, so has the Co-op.

 

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