Thursday, July 5, 2018

905 Portage Avenue - Former Safeway / FOODFARE

© 2018, Christian Cassidy
Place: Former Safeway / FOODFARE
905 Portage Avenue (Map) 
Opened: July 26, 1951
Cost: $97,000

Safeway opened its first store on this block at 893 Portage Avenue on November 2, 1929, just months after entering the Canadian market.

In the fall of 1950, the company announced a multi-year, $1 million expansion for its Manitoba region. In Winnipeg, this meant four new stores would be added in 1951 alone. This brought the total number of Safeways in the city to 31.
Variation of 1950s model store, Saskatoon Public Library

Every few years, Safeway introduced a new, larger model store and phased out its oldest generation of buildings. These "cookie-cutter" stores were important as they ensured that the same range of goods could be displayed in the same locations at each outlet. A customer could walk into any Safeway in the province and it would be a familiar, convenient place to shop.

Most of the early 1950 stores were of this "big fin" design. Though designed at Safeway's U.S. head office, local architect Lloyd Finch was hired to fine tune the size and shape of each outlet to fit its site.

Costing about $100,000 each, these were simple, single-storey red brick buildings with a full basement served by a dumb waiter. Outside, there was an overhang that partially covered the sidewalk and the 40 x 18 foot, metal clad "fin" displaying the Safeway name.

One noticeable variation from store to store appears to have been the size of the front windows. Images of other stores of this style show small front windows whereas 905 Portage has large windows.

The only similarity between the old and new stores was the mezzanine over the meat area that served as the manager's office.
Top: 1951 Safeway interior, Utah DHA
Middle: Interior of new store, 1952, Waco Tribune
Bottom: 1951 Safeway interior, Saskatoon Public Library

The new store was about 8,000 square feet in size, more than double that of the old store. The size difference increases even more when you factor in its full basement.

The larger stores accommodated a wider range of goods and the modern way customers shopped. This was an era of increased self-service options, such as picking out your own pre-packaged meats and dairy products from coolers. Frozen foods were also becoming a popular grocery item and space was required for open-top freezers.

Other original features of this store included seven check outs, space for shopping cart storage and "electronic eye" doors.

July 25, 1951, Winnipeg Free Press

A store preview was held on the evening of Wednesday, July 25, 1951 with the Manitoba Pipers' Association Pipe Band playing in the parking lot. It opened for business at 9:00 a.m. the next morning.

That 32-car parking lot was another feature that the older stores did not need. The goal of the new outlets was not just to attract people within walking distance, but also to bring in commuters who were traveling home to new, residential suburbs.

This parking lot hosted a number of events in its early years, including a legion service in 1951, a "hoe down" by the Square Dance Club of central YMCA in August 1952 and a square dance by Hicks' KC Kids from Kansas City in 1954.

Managers of this store included Mike Phillips from at least 1960 until he was transferred to the Isabel at Notre Dame store in 1962. He was replaced by Reg Bedard, who managed it until at least 1969 when he, too, moved on to a bigger store.

By the mid-1970s, a number of generations of model stores had come and gone and 905 Portage was one of a dwindling number of early 1950s stores left in the chain.

Starting around 1975, Safeway ads featuring "bulk buys" and non-grocery items such as picnic chairs and steam cleaners came with an asterisk noting that these items were not available at 905 Portage due to lack of space.

The store lasted until the mid-1980s when Safeway decided to close it in favour of an expanded Polo Park location. The retailer gave Safeway employees the first option to purchase the building.

Top: Halbesma, ca. 1965
Below: Harry's Foods, ca. 1993

Harry Halbesma had been a manager at the Isabel at Notre Dame Safeway in the 1960s and at the Portage and Ferry Road store in the 1970s. He decided to take the plunge and along with a number of family members, including his wife, three sons, two sisters and some cousins, opened Harry's Foods on October 2, 1985.

Catering to a neighbourhood where car ownership rates were low, Harry's offered telephone shopping and a delivery service. It also prided itself in carrying many Manitoba-made products.

In the 1990s when Sunday shopping became legal in Winnipeg, Harry's opted not to open.

In 1996, Harry and his wife, Shirley, retired and son Stan and his wife, Debbie, took over the store.

September 30, 2000, Winnipeg Free Press

In the 1990s, the Halbesmas purchased a former automobile repair shop located behind the store's parking lot 444 Burnell Street. In 2000, it became the short-lived Harry's Urban Market offering an expanded range of fruits and vegetables and other products.

In April 2005, Halbesma approached the city to purchase the back lane between 905 Portage and 444 Burnell Street to allow for the expansion of the grocery store. It appears that the application was approved and the city was going to declare the lane surplus, (see bylaw 162/2006.) For whatever reason the sale never took place.

In December 2006, the Halbesmas announced that they had sold the store to FOODFARE, owned by the Zeid family. Stan Halbesma said in a newspaper story that he had a number of inquiries about the building but wanted to ensure that it remained an independent grocery store.

The reasons given for selling were to "slow down and enjoy life a little more" and to concentrate on the second Harry's Foods store, purchased in 1999, on Highway 9 in St. Andrews, Manitoba, near where the couple lived.

FOODFARE was created by Moe Zeid when he purchased a former Payfair Store, which also used to be a Safeway, on Lilac Street in 1977. This would be the fifth store in its independent chain.

Though the transfer to the Zeid family took place on January 1, 2007, the store was not rebranded until January 2, 2008.


  1. a great article, always appreciate you great research...a wonderful store,maintains many items for smaller shopping needs, vastly preferred! thanks! happy summer

  2. Great article Chris, glad to see a new one after a few weeks of none! I have recently discovered your blog. Due to your dedication on the history of all of the Safeway stores in Winnipeg (specifically the 1920s style with red roof tiles and corner spires) I have recently identified one on a street I have driven down literally thousands of times. It's at the corner of St. Mary's and St. Anne's I, the actual address is 1 St. Anne's Rd. and is now a massage therapy clinic. Now I am on the lookout for more when I drive around the city!