RED LAKE-It could be easier for Red Lake residents to buy healthier foods this summer. Or buy fishing line. Or do a load of laundry.
Red Lake Nation leaders hope to have a replacement for the Red Lake Trading Post up and running by the end of June or early July. The new building is set to include a laundromat, fishing tackle, hardware, a Subway sandwich shop, coffee bar, deli, a bakery, and, perhaps most important, is expected to have a wider variety of food there.
"We have no place where you can get a healthy food option up here in Red Lake," said Harvey Roy III, the chief executive officer for Red Lake Inc., also known as Ogaakaaning Enterprises, which is an arm of the Ojibwe band that oversees nine tribally-owned businesses, including the trading post. Roy announced on Saturday he will be stepping down from his post there, but will work to finish the store project. "With the diabetes epidemic and everything, this is great for the community." (An estimated 14.9 percent of American Indian men and 15.3 percent of American Indian women have been diagnosed with diabetes, according to 2015 data from the Indian Health Service via the American Diabetes Association. Those figures are about twice those reported for non-hispanic white men and women.)
A larger store, the thinking goes, means more room for more healthful options such as gluten- and sugar-free foods.
It could also sport cheaper prices, Roy said, because staff will have more room to store bulk purchases. The new store is expected to employ about 60 workers, according to Roy, which would be about 15-20 more than the current one. The new jobs will be a mix of part-time and full-time positions, Roy said.
"Basically, every department is going to get expanded," said Allen Retz, the retail general manager for the current trading post and its replacement.
It'll cover about 26,000 square feet, a figure that Retz estimated is about three times that of the existing store.
Red Lake leaders considered renovating or upgrading the existing trading post, Roy said, but its equipment is obsolete and therefore difficult to repair, which made a wholesale replacement a simpler choice.
The band's business arm took out a $10.4 million loan to pay for the new store, which they'll offset with about $3 million worth of tax credits, Roy said. The project won a "small deal of the year" award from the D.C.-based Native American Finance Officers Association, which said the project was a "national milestone" because it pairs a New Markets Tax Credit with a USDA business and industry guaranty on a project located on tribal trust land. The award recognizes a small tribal deal or venture with an original structure and innovative terms for the tribe, the association said.
A tribally owned store could also keep money in Red Lake. Money often flows-"leaks"-to larger corporations that aren't based in or near tribal economies.
"We need to keep our money in our community," Roy said on Facebook, echoing Tribal Chairman Darrell Seki, Sr., who, at the new store's 2017 groundbreaking ceremony, said the goal is to bring people in to buy locally, instead of going to Bemidji. "Walmart never donated to our causes."
"We have a close-knit community and it's good to have something that we can call our own," Roy told the Pioneer.