Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Dynacare Super Location Full of Problems

Below is a list of Dynacare locations that have been recently closed. If you needed a variety of diagnostic medical tests, there is a good bet that one was close to you for walking, by bus, near your grocery or pharmacy in the western part of Winnipeg.

  • Park Hill (3263 Portage Ave.)
  • Westwood (3320 Portage Ave.)
  • Old Tuxedo (262-2025 Corydon Ave.)
  • Charleswood (3360 Roblin Blvd.)
  • Tuxedo Medical (1425 Corydon Ave.)
  • Stafford (100-305 Stafford St.)
  • Pan Am (75 Poseidon Bay)
  • Prairie Trail (100-1345 Taylor Ave.)
  • Viva Care (1665 Kenaston Blvd.)
  • Linden Ridge (123 Scurfield)   
However, Dynacare became this large and city-wide through a takeover of a competitor. It is now closing their multiple locations in favour of super locations.
Is this a good thing? According to the company it means that these new locations will be new, have better staffing, services and parking. What they won't be is close. If you are in St. James, there will nothing from the St. James Bridge till you get to Unicity. That will be home to a supercenter. Consider yourself lucky. At least this location will be on a bus route although it is a very long ride to get there and back if you are getting monthly blood tests.
The new 1-515 Sterling Lyon location in the Seasons of Tuxedo parking lot will not be easy at all for those who used to go Charleswood or Tuxedo locations. River Heights and Linden Woods also face much longer commutes. In fact all Southwest Winnipeg is in for a big surprise when going for bloodwork. If you don't drive, it is extremely tough.

While buses go to Seasons of Tuxedo, they do not drop off right where the clinic is. The stop is the other side of the mall. While the 10 clinic rooms are handicapped accessible, transportation to the clinic doors is not easy. That is a long walk to the front doors from the bus stop to the curb that greets you at the clinic doors. And if you were thinking of walking, there is no sidewalk on the north side of Sterling Lyon. None. It matters not about walkways in Seasons when there is no sidewalk down Kenaston or that part of Sterling Lyon. I would not ride a bike down Kenaston where cars race up the shoulder. And there is no sidewalk either side. None.
The only way to really get to this clinic is by car. And the clinic will be sharing a parking lot with the new Frankie's restaurant. No fault of Frankie's but you have to assume that could be a lot of cars in and out of the lot. F45 gym is also in there.
So...let's break it down. A new 10 room clinic in Seasons of Tuxedo. Service area is pretty much all southwest Winnipeg. Bus stop is across the other side of the mall. No sidewalks on north side of Sterling Lyon where the clinic is. No sidewalks either side of all south Kenaston. Bikes? How could you could attempt it let alone lock up nearby? A shared parking lot with other busy tenants. A curb to greet you as hobble or wheel yourself up there.
Have I got this right? There are 25 smaller facilities being closed but like banks that shut down in neighbourhoods, it is hard to see this as forcing people to use cars to go longer distances while still throwing other obstacles in the way to the service.
I don't even want to talk about you get in and out of there during Christmas. It's a dog's breakfast even early in the morning. And it will only get worse and more is built on the site.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Portage Place Makeover 2021

Well, Starlight Investments out of Toronto has indicated what they will be doing with their purchase of Portage Place in 2019. They will indeed be putting up two apartment building on the east and west pads of the three block mall.

Or perhaps we shouldn't be calling this a mall anymore. There will be no internal corridor anymore. It will be replaced with a Skywalk that runs along the entire south streetside. Presumably, there will be corridors at various intervals to offices, retail and apartment within Portage Place. Also likely will be security doors closed after hours and only open to those with business inside. And the Skywalk itself might actually be paid for and run by the city with some financial support from the developer.
Essentially, we are seeing a plan for a three block long skywalk with nothing inside as being a priority change. Only paying customers inside, please.

None of this is to begin till 2021 and will be in progress till 2027.

All through this, of course, the developer is assured that millions will come in from the parkade, Perhaps $25 million or more by that time from parking alone.
There has been a promise of some sort of outdoor public access but we have heard that story before in the form of The Promenade which runs behind Portage Place on the northside. It has never lived up to the hype.  In fact, the rear entrance has been the source of many a problem for the mall. Truth be told all of the entrances and bus shelter have had problems. The above picture shows a pedestrian plaza but when push comes to shove, I don't see it happening.

A plaza has places for sitting down. It doesn't have cars zooming past. It is safe and secure. It isn't dominated by national chains. It is very local and organic. There might be a thousand people that live behind Portage Place but there was never any street life. The mall and the residences turned inwards.

As for mall, by 1988 many stores facing out to Portage Avenue shut their doors to the outside. There were two reasons for that. The mall took sidewalk traffic and moved it inside the mall. The second reason was two entrances meant two staffed cash areas for stores that likely only needed one cash desk.

A good outline of the Portage Place can be read here in legislative report from 1994:

https://www.gov.mb.ca/legislature/hansard/35th_5th/hansardpdf/ma2.pdf

The two pads built on east and west side of the mall and development were being considered. Portage Place and the surrounding area were not considered "complete." The next phase addressing building atop the mall and creating more street presence was looked into.
This is the concept plan above for the west side. It included an office tower of about 10 floors. It never happened. It is why I'm not exactly blown away by the concept art from Starlight. We have seen this before. We have been promised things before. But then priorities changed.

The east side pad was to have been a Lakeview hotel. Building materials and scaffolding had actually gone up. They quietly came back down as Winnipeg slid into a recession that saw property values stagnate and collapse all over the city. We saw federal, provincial and civic cutbacks while arson and murder climbed and addictions rose. Some neighbourhoods were near collapse and insurance companies threatening to pull coverage. It was bad. It seemed the city was burning down.

Meanwhile:

  • Polo Park 1959, enclosed 1963, second floor added in 1986
  • Grant Park Shopping Centre 1962
  • Garden City Shopping Centre 1970
  • Unicity 1975
  • Winnipeg Square 1979
  • Eaton Place (Cityplace) 1979
  • St. Vital Shopping Centre 1979
  • Kildonan Place 1980
  • Portage Place 1987
  • Forks Market, Johnston Terminal 1989-1993
https://winnipegsun.com/2012/09/19/portage-place-time-to-tear-it-down-and-start-anew/wcm/b49f9e3f-faeb-4552-a41c-83b608ce1734

That is a lot of malls. Polo Park added the second floor in 1986 and then Portage Place in 1987. They were both owned by Cadillac Fairview. However, the Bronfmans sold CF to Ontario Teacher's the year before Portage Place opened up. This is significant as the mall developer lost the entrepreneurial side of the business and instead got owners interested on sitting on assets and pulling in returns.

By 1995, Unicity Fashion Square mall collapsed into bankruptcy and closure. The Forks was struggling to stay alive. The earnings from the government owners parkade at Portage Place were being transferred in the millions to Forks development. Very long and cheap leases were signed and and parking was free. No money was left for North Portage.

By 1997 Cadillac Fairview sold Portage Place. Remarkable after only 10 years. It would go on to be sold twice more with values collapsing. Eventually, the landlord converted some of the retail into offices with some success. But the mall was never to know it's true value till the public ownership of the parkade was resolved.

This year we saw what the value of the mall in terms of the sale to Starlight was at around $22 million and the value of the parkade was around $47 million. The return on the parkade each year? About $3 million. That is something a developer can bank on.
How do we know that ownership of the parking can trigger development? We need look no further than Portage and Main where Artis owning the parking has triggered upgrades to the tower, mall and now the construction of the tallest apartment in Winnipeg at 44 storeys.

Still, we should be wary about what is promised versus what is actually delivered. Look at Skycity. The condo has never gotten off the ground amidst police raids and investigations. Some Winnipeggers have lost a lot of money and time on that one. And the land set aside for it will probably be legally entangled for years.

The one good thing about Portage Place is that it is a built asset and together with the parkade is an income generator. I think the mistake that some people make is that there aren't any blue chip tenants in Portage Place. They have a variety that other malls are now realizing can be more stable than just retail. For example, Prairie Theatre Exchange has been there from the beginning and is now joined by the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra. That brings in a lot of people in.

Starlight will need to satisfy office tenants such as Investors Group, PTE and Manitoba Chamber Orchestra with some form of public access. None of them would want locked doors making it difficult for clients and customers to access their services. There are also a number of non-government agencies, dentist and other clinics that need access to either a public court or outside building entrance.

It is no wonder Starlight is talking about a "public plaza." But Edmonton Court will be neither be a replacement for the mall or a plaza. It would be the bare minimum to keep the tenants it does have there happy. To service the Skywalk facing out to Portage Avenue and to make sure people have access to their parkade from the street, there needs to be ways to pass freely through the building north and south and up to the east and west Skywalk corridor. That requires stairs, elevators and escalators. That end Edmonton Court will remain public.

There is no doubt Starlight does not want to lose Staples and Shopper's Drug Mart. Expect to see those store have exterior access to Portage Avenue. A grocery has been talked about as well and it will likely have access to Edmonton Court or to Portage Avenue. The federal offices of Services Canada will need some sort of public access as well since the mall corridor will disappear.

The type of disruption being considered for Portage Place can only be done a section at a time. And probably a floor at a time. In all likelihood, the second floor will be first and the northside retail tenants will be affected. The section to see change first has to be, without doubt, the east side of the present mall. Why? Because the Skywalk to the BellMTS helps puts premium parking in the parkade for over 100 events a year. Any interruption in that affects the bottom line for Starlight.

The apartment towers in terms of construction will probably be less disruptive than closing the mall and building the Skywalk out front. But the Skywalk really can't be done without some sort of impact on the second floor retailers. The ones facing north will face evictions first but as soon as the entire Skywalk is done, the second floor ceases to be a mall as we know it. As for the third floor, the east side where the IMAX and Globe Theatres once stood represent an attractive space to make third floor apartments more appealing.

I suspect as amenities go, the theatres could be used for an apartment gym, a common room, meetings rooms. The same could apply to the IMAX space. The high ceilings could make for a climbing wall alone. Some sort of lobby, dedicated elevators right down to a service dock for people moving in and out and receiving deliveries will be needed. Engineers, architects and trades people will be needed to figure it out. Likewise, when apartments are set up on the west pad, they will have to figure out elevator and stairwells and loading dock too.

Slow work to upgrade older buildings such as malls can take years. Polo Park in fifty plus years has doubled and now contracted and looking to build up again. A better comparison might be Grant Park Mall that look several years, a few setbacks and continued change to get to where it is now. A few times Grant Park looked like it would be passed by in favour of flashier retailers and yet it has flourished despite major changes.

The conversion of Portage Place to what it is going to become is probably not going to be what the concept pictures show. Unlike, True North Square that started on a parking lot or land where structures were knocked down to make way from construction, Starlight is working with existing structure as well as tenants.

If we skip ahead to the future of Portage Place, there is a good bet that in this decade it won't look like it does now...probably won't be owned by Starlight either. By way of comparing, there is not a single tower at Portage and Main that hasn't changed hands except for the Richardson building. The goal of Starlight will be to monetize their asset with the transformation and only hold onto it if it looks to build their stock value. While dividends are very welcome, Starlights makes money buying and selling assets. Buy low and sell high.

What we will see with Portage Place is the two 20 storey towers over the next 10 years, a connection to Skywalk and as many long term blue chip tenants in retail and office as they can find. After that, don't be surprised if they sell to a nice fat pension group looking for consistent dividends for their retirees. How much will they sell for? If they are lucky, they sell three blocks of prime real estate in Winnipeg for between $800 million to a shade under a billion. All that for an initial $80 million investment and probably $300 million or so development.

The city won't have much leverage except in the Skywalk discussion. At that time, they could encourage more street entrances to the retail off Portage and may hear a receptive ear. A real upgrade of Portage Avenue in that area could work. Keep in mind though that the city keeps saying it is in the poor house so there is that.

In 2030 the whole of Portage Place might be complete. That would just in time for the discussion for the replacement of BellMTS with a larger facility. In case you are wondering where that will be, look no further than where the Goldeyes play right now. The city has already indicated that they see how valuable this land is and at some point, they will hand it to the True North or whoever owns the Jets for a new arena around ten years from now. As for the Goldeyes, who can can say if the team will be around but if I was to guess, it will moving to Point Douglas when we make make another pitch for an international games and looking to build a legacy building.

And the old BellMTS arena? Another add on to True North towers. Even then Portage Place parkade will still be needed for a higher density office and residential community in the area.

Look for new plans on Portage Place and the Skywalk soon and a start date announced for construction by fall of 2020.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

King's Food Host Pembina Highway

King's Food Host on Pembina Highway was the only location for a mid-western chain of restaurants in Winnipeg. It stood on east side pretty much where Shopper's Drug Mart stands south of Point Road. The restaurant stood from approximately 1970 to 1974 and was famous for Cheese Frenchee Sandwiches.

The chain was started in Lincoln Nebraska in 1951 by James King and Larry Price, it would later be Price to continue the King's name in 1970 when his partner left the business. A franchise would open a year later in 1961 and a franchise system would be in place by 1968. In two years the restaurant group grew to over 100 locations in 17 states and one province. That one province was Manitoba.
The red booths and larger curved ones for family groups were perfect family fare. And the food they served was priced in the same category.
The menu was decidedly burger joint and their Cheese Frenchee Sandwiches.
What appealed to kids was that you put your order in by table-side phone. You would call it in just as you might from a drive-inn. Parent's would often hand the phone to kids to call the order in.
Alas, by 1974 King's started to have financial problems in the States. McDonald's and others were increasingly expanding and winning the family market. In that year King's quietly closed and a number of other restaurants called the location home in years after before Shopper's arrived.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Grant Park Shopping Centre in 1969

The land where Grant Park Shopping Centre was near the end of the line for Winnipeg. The Grand Trunk Rail line (later CN) was built in 1908 and was bush country beyond River Heights and Fort Rouge. But it was also Rooster Town and it existed as a Metis community from 1920 to around 1961. It was housing not connected to water or roads and the people were vulnerable. It is difficult to say if any of the people lived or worked nearby thereafter.

In 1962 land was broken to create Grant Park Shopping Centre which was a series of detached stores along what would become Grant Avenue. The entire area was experience post World War II growth at an an accelerated rate. The mall itself opened in 1964.

The stores were originally detached. Safeway, Dominion and Clarke's were some of the original stores. Woolco was added in 1966 and triggered a court case with Clarke's that went all the way to the Supreme Court. The decision went to Woolco and triggered even more work to enclose the mall so that stores were connected together like a true mall.

The above picture is from 1969 and Woolco has been there for three years but this year is the first that is attached to mall. The below picture is also from 1969 and shows the corridor with Pizza Place on the right. The new movie theatre is immediately right in the picture and the corridor to the left leads to the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission (simply called The Commission) and the Imperial Bank. The bank is still there as CIBC and MLCC is now in a different place called the Manitoba Liquor Mart.
Pizza Place lasted through many decades and might have lasted a lot more. The multi-year renovations and store closures of Woolco, Zellers and Target were brutal. Many retailers inside moved a number of times. A few of them failed as a result of so many changes.

Grant Park certainly has gone through a dizzying array of changes from the day is has been built. However, today's Red River Co-op, Canadian Tire and Goodlife additions may represent a time of stability for the mall.

In 1969 the movie theatre opened and the entrance to it was through the mall. It was Winnipeg's first Cinerama theatre with a curved screen. The theatre was a 742 seat hall and was one of the more comfortable places to see a movie in the city.

The first movie was a special effects wonder called Krakatoa and had Winnipggers coming to check out for weeks for both the movie and the theatre.
By 1969 there were many towers surrounding the mall and across the street. South River Heights had filled in. And Woolco was the perfect suburban store with its candy section and Red Grille restaurant.
And in 1969 when the whole mall became enclosed, there was steady traffic down the corridor past the Pizza Place to Woolco.

The parking lot outside Grant Park would be largely just parking till the 1970s when McDonald's among came to town. Today there are restaurants the entire roadside.

The movie theatre became a multiplex in 1989 and has since been re-configured a few times and is now Landmark which could be one of the poshest movie houses in town except for VIP service.

As of the end of 2019 with Red River Co-op grocery store renovations ending, Grant Park is probably going to have some stability after years of renovations. Pizza Place which became Autumnbee's Pizza for a short time remains empty. It remains to be seen if anyone is willing to take a chance on it as a restaurant again.

Grant Park has evolved with suburbia and still remains popular with young and old.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Winnipeg Blue Bombers 2019 Grey Cup Champions - And what's next?

Joy.

The players have had it the last number of games. And they had in the Grey Cup final in Calgary this past weekend. Play and play, they smiles, the laughter and sheer joy was seen on the faces of the players as well as the fans.

We've had teams with swagger, confidence. The Blue Bombers may not have won since 1990 but it had been to the show a number of times. They lost in 1992. They lost in 1993. They went a lot of years of bad football. They lost in 2001. They lost in 2007. They lost 2011.

They lost heartbreakers. They were outplayed. They blew it so many times that we almost expected to be kicked every year even when we looked like a good team. Even when we played like a good team. We were cursed.

Cursed.

Catastrophic injuries, penalties, missed plays, poor QBs, poor management, sometimes poor coaching and Bombers went year and year without winning and even missing play-offs.

In recent years, they added people here and there in coaching or players. A few free agents, a few good drafts, some development. Brought Winnipeg players on who really get what this is about in terms of commitment. Even with all that, the curse of injuries or encounters with teams that seemed unbeatable confounded the Blue Bombers. It is kind of crazy that 28 years just seemed to pile on.

As been mentioned, hard times have ebbed and flowed in Manitoba. By 1990, deep cuts were happening at all three levels of government. The early 1980s had been hard but we seemed to finish the decade a bit better. The 1990s hurt. People had been leaving in the 1980s. By the 1990s they were pouring out of the province. As bad as parts of Canada was cuts, Manitoba seemed to be worse.

And the football teams go to the show in the early part of the decade and then stopped. To top it off, the Jets left in 1996 and we were the arson/murder capital that was on its knees. In 1997, the whole province flooded and we nearly lost the city.

Slowly, we crawled out of recession, deficit and tried to find our economic footing. In 1999 we felt that pride again when we hosted the Pan Am Games and did a great job. We hosted World Junior Hockey and curling events but try as we might our football team couldn't win the big one nor could our AHL Moose team and we were a long way away from getting the Winnipeg Jets back in 2011.

In recent years the return of the Winnipeg Jets has stolen Bomber thunder. The Winnipeg Jets street parties showed just how much the city was craving to celebrate together. And boy did they ever with thousands upon thousands coming out.

This year's march to a Grey Cup was very much something that was won on the road. Signs across the city made the hashtag of For the W trend. Winnipeg fans almost feared to hope. Injured quarterback, young quarterback trying, a doping scandal, a record reflecting a good but hard to measure as great team.
The arrival of Collaros was promising but he too had suffered terrible injury and no one knew if he really was out of the woods. In the end, the team showed a level of collaboration and drive and joy of playing that wouldn't be denied.

We are already seeing some of the talented coaching staff being hired away. Some quarterbacks are likely to go as well and free agents. Still, the monkey is off the Bombers back, they had a great win and the resulting parade, social and family day showed just how much happiness the city felt for bringing home the Grey Cup.

It has been a tough number of years for Manitoba and not just in sports. For every bright spot we sometimes seem to be hit by setbacks. It isn't lost on anyone the desperate addiction and crime wave recently. And yet for a brief moment, we had joy and that brings out even the saltiest of us out to Portage and Main.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Gord Leclerc Laid Off from CTV News Winnipeg

At one time CBC News in Winnipeg was number 1. CKY and later CKND and much later than that MTN were way behind in the ratings. Garth Dawley read the news from 1970 to 1983 and CBC was solidly in front. In 1983, CBC enhanced that success with the changes both nationally and locally. The National and The Journal had moved to 10 PM and the Winnipeg 24 Hours supertime broadcast had Sandra Lewis in 1985 and Kevin Evans in a solid combination that dominated the 1980s news. Often full length 24 Hours documentaries from Winnipeg would headline The Journal. The product being produced was that good.

CBC would tinker with the format nearly non-stop from 1990 to 2000 due to cutbacks or news format changes such as the Canada Now experiment that tried to place a national news broadcast at the supper hour. That experiment extended to the national news moving to 9 PM with poor results till it moved back to 10 PM.

Sandra Lewis would move on and the news in Winnipeg would be anchored by Diana Swain from 1995 to 2000 with some maternity leave breaks in there as well. It was around 2000 when Swain left that the local news in Winnipeg switched. It was no longer number 1 in the market. They stuck it long term with some familiar faces that were not headed off to Toronto like Lewis and Swain. It was a bit of a revolving door after that. Krista Erikison and Jennifer Rattray along with some fill in anchors for seven years with multiple format changes with Canada Now.

Meanwhile, CKY stuck to its knitting. They brought a reporter called Gord Leclerc in 1995 and in 2002 he became the news anchor. The one format remained intact and they allowed for community personalities to evolve. Sylvia Kuzyk in weather gave a sense of continuity. Janet Stewart as Leclerc's co-anchor and John Sauder would add to 6:00 PM lock on number 1 for CTV News.

In a uprising change though, Janet Stewart left CTV tin 2006 to anchor CBC News at Six in January of 2007. She would not make the move alone, John Sauder who had also been at CTV since 2000 would also join the CBC broadcast team in 2007. Sauder was a well known commodity for Winnipeg for being the pilot and traffic reporter for Winnipeg from 1984 and flying at "Captain John" for decades. Alas, Stewart and Sauder were not able to break the stranglehold CTV had on 6 PM news. However, you could say that a partnership was more solidly worked out with the radio division using TV news people that has helped CBC Radio One achieve number 1 status in Winnipeg and across the country.

Leclerc at CTV would be eventually joined by Maralee Caruso in 2007. Caruso was a veteran of the newsroom since 2001. Together, the two anchors continued CTV News at Six dominance despite the efforts of CBC to re-take lead with Stewart and Sauder.

In 2019, CTV News in Winnipeg unceremoniously dumped Gord Leclerc and wiped him from website. It was described purely a budgetary matter. All of the past years has seen CTV cutting staff. They're not the only ones. CBC across the country wielded the hatchet this week, mostly in Toronto.

After nearly 25 years, Leclerc was erased from the news. Were it not for his industry friends, it is likely no one would have known the day it happened. Not even an acknowledgement the broadcast took place. Maralee Caruso continues to be solo anchor but it must have caused a chill for all of CTV Winnipeg. The rumour has been that the network has been interested in maybe cutting even more.

The years of community engagement and charity work counted for nothing. And while it is a business, it is a pretty cruel one. The chasing of ratings and advertising money has meant people come and go. However, it is worth noting that Leclerc helped them achieve and maintain number 1 in the market. The very stability and consistency that made CTV number 1 might tip the tables back in favour of the CBC News at Six program.

Can a job offer from other media in Winnipeg for Leclerc be in the offing? Or will all those years of community engagement bring other job offers.

Still, if CBC really wanted to stick CTV in the high, they would hire Gord Leclerc.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Paradise Restaurant Closed on Portage Avenue

After 40 years some things just seem permanent. Even if you never went into the place, Paradise restaurant at the split between Broadway and Portage Avenue felt like it was always going to be there. The Since 1978 written on their sign affirmed that it had outlasted many other restaurants of over year. So successful was the brand that they opened another Paradise on Leila in 1983 and it too stood its ground.

Alas, Paradise is no more. A sign in the window said that the restaurant was having staffing issues the last five or six years. Vince Magro and family that owned both locations retreated to their Leila location which they still run. At 100 dining seats and 50 lounge seats, Paradise was probably a beast to run, especially when it didn't have a breakfast menu.

It is a difficult thing to run a restaurant and do so successfully. The changes in demographics, neighbourhood changes and what people like to eat can vary. People who like this restaurant can take comfort in the fact that one will still exist in the city although it may be a longer ride for some.

As for the future of the restaurant site? Once the infrastructure is in place for a restaurant, the building often comes back as a restaurant. This will be a site to keep a close eye on.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Wall Street Co-Op Store 1957

From 1957 to 1983, Red River Co-Op ran grocery and pharmacy stores in Winnipeg. The 20,000 square foot store on Wall Street was the first and last of the grocery stores to operate before the Co-Op got back into the business in 2014.

The Red River Co-Op got its start in 1937 as a fuel supply company and had a number of coal yards and gas and diesel supplied from the Federated Co-Op from mines and refineries in Alberta and Saskatchewan. By the 1940s the fuel yards added general stores.

In the post war boom, grocery stores were becoming bigger and Co-Op felt they had enough members and demand and built one of the larger grocery stores of the day on Wall Street for around $750.000. The store had more in common with a Walmart in that it had general merchandise and a pharmacy as well as appliances. There was also a credit union, gas station and farm supply building. At the time there was only 4000 members of the Red River Co-Op but this investment proved to be very successful.

Other stores followed and the Co-Op grew although slower than some other areas in the west. Still, by 1978 there were eight grocery stores in Winnipeg and surrounding area. In 1979, Red River Co-Op made a critical misstep when they built a $10 million Home Center that was around 5,600 square feet at McPhillips and Stardust.

One year later Winnipeg had one of the worst years since the Great Depression. It was in 1980 that Swift's, Canada Packers and Winnipeg Tribune collapsed and the province sunk to numbers of unemployment, stagnation and inflation all at the same time. Red River Co-Op was in debt and bleeding money as people left the province.

The grocery business collapsed and only the Wall Street location above managed to hang on till 1983 when it too closed.  Red River Co-Op held on as a fuel supplier and nursed itself back to health for decades after. At its worst, Co-Op was down to three gas stations and most didn't see a future for it.

However, each Co-op gas renovation would soon have a convenience store and after years of expanding to more location, they had become a confident retailer again. They got back into the grocery business when the merger of Sobeys with Safeway forced a sale of assets by the federal government.

It remains to be seen how Co-Op will look in the future. Winnipeg is far more diversified than it was in the 1980 recession. And this helps businesses like Co-Op stay viable and gives good returns to those that use it.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Protest to Bring Back Central Canada Comic Con C4

The past weekend normally would be the host weekend for Central Canada Comic Con. It was the largest convention in Manitoba and probably had the most diverse age, culture, gender and family dynamic of most events hosted at RBC Winnipeg Convention Centre.

Alas, there will be no more C4 now and likely forever.

Still, tomorrow a group is going to peacefully protest at 11 AM, November 1st, Friday outside the facility for a saviour to re-start it.

They have a petition to sign as well.

https://www.change.org/p/mayor-brian-bowman-bring-back-central-canada-comic-con?recruiter=24870978&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink&utm_campaign=share_petition

Alas, the lack of corporate partners and a rise in prices at the Convention Centre and competition for the Halloween dates has made things tough.

Keycon and FanQuest don't even attempt to get into the Convention Centre because it is a monster to run. Heaven knows how Ai-Kon does it every year but they seems to have a number of women with unlimited energy.

Let's see how efforts to revive a comic con goes. Suffice to say there are investigations presently going on a new event. Some are by groups outside the province, some are within. It may be that such an event starts smaller and at another venue though unless some good sponsors are part of the picture.

Good luck to all.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Manitoba Liquor Mart - The Old Days

If you have to ask what wine goes with fish, you are too young to be in here, son.

The Manitoba Liquor Control Commission didn't mess around. Prohibition might have ended but it didn't mean that Manitoba government had to like it. You could still be a dry town if you wanted.

If you did sale alcohol, it had to be a government store. And no alcohol where you could paw at it. You had to write your order down, show your ID where it was recorded and then you could buy. One of the white shirt, tie and bow-tie guys would get your order. And no funny business. Lots of veterans worked stores. They dealt with Hitler or Japanese or Koreans in the war and could certainly deal with you.

The regulations on alcohol were stringent and in no way was the retail experience supposed to be nice. Beer was sold by hotel vendours but there too, you didn't get past the front counter.

In light of alcohol thefts, lots of ideas are being bandied about. The Crown is being hostile to the media, the public and saying they are working on it or blaming society's ills. The police are telling the public to do nothing.

It is true that retail thefts are happening everywhere but we haven't heard it happening in cannabis and beer stores. For the beer stores, it is probably because steeling cans or bottles is heavy work and that $60 theft is likely to get your caught as you lug it down Portage Avenue. For cannabis, it is because is sold the way liquor was sold decades ago! You need ID and it is behind the counter, Good luck.

Liquor execs might get angry but they should fear a public that says: Toss it. What they might get is demands for online sales and delivery (which they'll get regardless) , privatization and end of the retail experience they get now.

No one likes watching criminal behaviour take place in front of them every day.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Bank of Montreal Portage and Main - The Future

The Bank of Montreal main branch closes soon. It is unlikely to branch will be torn down immediately for a parking lot. However, it is also unlikely that the Bank will pay taxes year after year on a building they don't own.

It is very likely the city or some non-profit will get it.

But what do they get? They get a bank set on an island with a decaying Concourse below it. Even above it has decrepit stairs and non-functioning elevators for wheelchairs.

The city voted no on opening the corner. But seemed to promise to fix the Concourse. That doesn't seem to be happening.

So the Bank of Montreal will close and will likely have to be boarded up and have 24 hour security lest squatters move in and begin removing everything they can. And before the city can pull its head out, we can see it burn down.

At that time we can get the surface lot we all want at Portage and Main.

Mike Tyson vs. Buster Douglas Japan 1990 - Trump Promoter

I arrived in Japan in August of 1989 and the Tokyo Dome was not even a year old. For my first week in the country, I was at all day orientation and seminars in Shinjuku at the Keio Plaza Intercontinental Hotel. Built in 1971 and was the tallest building in Japan for a time till other nearby towers surpassed it. While I was there, the immense Tokyo Metropolitan Government Headquarters were being constructed and were complete a year later and it became the tallest building for many years. The Keio Plaza had been rumoured to have a U.S spy station in the 1980s for the U.S. military. Even now there are bases all over such as the Hardy Barracks in Rappongi and naval stations, air stations near Yokohama and the Marine base near Mt. Fuji. Not to mention most of Okinawa.
The picture above is the Keio Plaza being built on what used to be city land for the water filtration plant in 1970. It now looks like Manhattan but it all started out with that hotel. Stayed there for a week in 1989 and was back for events in 1990, 1991 and 1992.

I arrived on a rainy, desperately hot and sticky night at rush hour. My first views of Tokyo were like that of Blade Runner. It was all neon and colour and umbrellas. Thousands of people everywhere. At Narita Airport, the Japanese English Teaching program participants packed the airport as people disembarked a few dozen 747s that had transported everyone from several countries. The Manitoba and Saskatchewan contingent numbered just under 50 people.

I befriended a Saskatchewan person and one afternoon and each evening ventured into Tokyo when work assignments were over. Well, not quite. One afternoon was skipped. It is why I was able to quickly learn the massive and sometimes befuddling Japanese subway, rail and transit system. Thankfully I inherited my mother's sense of direction rather than my dad's or I would have still been lost in Japan till today.

By the second day and with clearer weather I travelled up and down the Marunouchi Line and transfer points to get me to the Rappongi area where many foreigners went because it had many of the embassies nearby including the Canadian embassy. It also had western restaurants and bars including the Hard Rock Cafe which sat on the second floor over a Tony Roma Ribs. It was here that I met NFL players who were there to play the first American Bowl Japan game (although everyone I knew in Japan called it the Coca Cola Bowl) at the recently built Tokyo Dome Stadium. The 50,000 seat facility was like a sister to the 1986 built B.C. Place.
The NFL teams were the Los Angeles Rams and the San Francisco 49ers. Now this is not the story I want to tell at this time but meeting the players and see quarterback Joe Montana, I ended up with tickets to the August 5, 1989 game. The 49ers would in that season go on to win the Superbowl in a lopsided win against Denver Broncos televised on Japanese TV. The Hard Rock at the time had King Kong peaking in the window of the second floor. He is no longer there.

My familiarity with the Marunouchi Line helped me find the Tokyo Dome in the Bunkyo district. I give this background because as a new facility,  the stadium was attracting every major concert or event in the world and my living just 90 minutes outside the city gave me a unique opportunity to see sports and performances.

Once I settled in at my home and job outside, I subscribed to the Japan Times and got a number of magazines like Tokyo Journal and Tokyo Weekender. I wanted to to see as much as possible on semi-weekly trips into the city. I quickly learned that Paul McCartney would be performing for the first time in 10 years live and since his arrest by Japanese police for marijuana in 1980. There was to be 6 concerts at the Tokyo Dome from March 3 to 13, 1990!
I was determined to get tickets for the concert and was shocked that it was sold out before I finished working that day. This was prior to any Internet and I was not sure how scalping took place or it was even permissible.  I tried every source to see if I could latch on to tickets as I'd been successful in the past finding them but no dice. Paul McCartney was simply beyond me to get.

I was back in my hometown in Tsuru and often on a Friday after work had pizza at Popcorn restaurant down the street from the university campus where I lived at. I dejectedly told the bartender or owner (I can't remember which) about my Paul McCartney problem. It was a familiar story to many Japanese also denied tickets. It was at that time I was told there was another big event that he had an extra ticket for and would I be interested.
Popcorn in Tsuru city is still around 30 years later down the mountain alongside Tsuru University that my apartment looked over. Much of my street has changed including my old Yamura High School which was knocked down in the 2014 and re-built as a high school for more of the surrounding communities. A new train station was also built at the end of my street which I would have appreciated after so many 30 minutes walks up hill from the main city station.
My old high school Yamura above being re-built and my favorite Italian restaurant Pips still standing over 30 years later. Best baked spaghetti in the world until I went to Garwood Grill in Winnipeg

Anyways, that ticket I mentioned happened to be for the Mike Tyson versus Buster Douglas fight Sunday, February 11 at the Tokyo Dome. I had never seen a boxing match live so I was very interested. And Mike Tyson was the most famous fighter in the world at the time defeating challengers in seconds. I immediately said yes and was prepared to pay but was told I was a guest so not necessary. It was useless to argue so one did their best by buying drinks or doing what you could hospitality-wise. As an aside, I would be invited to many events in the years ahead including two Mt. Fuji Jazz Fests at Lake Yamanaka and another at Mr. Yatsugatake.

I had been in Japan less than a year and was fairly familiar with the commute to Tokyo and back as I did it every other weekend, it seemed. At this time I didn't have my Honda scooter so it was roughly a 30 minute walk from Tsuru University to one of two train stations. I chose Yamura Station in central Tsuru as it was a serviced ticket office. It was also the second most expensive private rail line called Fujikyuko off the main Chuo JR line at Otsuki station. The two hour commute had two train changes. Fujikyuko to Otsuki and Otsuki to Takao station and the rapid line to Shinjuku Tokyo.
Above is Shinjuku which was my go to for books, CDs and movies but I only stayed in hotels there when someone else was paying the bill. This is looking toward Shinjuku Station which is beyond the big towers. The twin towers were being built while I was there and completed in 1990. They are the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Headquarters. The Keio Plaza Intercontinental Hotel is immediately behind it. The three pointy towers are the Park Hyatt where Lost in Translation was filmed. It was under construction while I was there and completed in 1994.
The above picture shows that Shinjuku was wiped out in 1945 by American fire bombs in the last year of World War II. Illustrated is what came after.

Luckily for the journey to the Tokyo, our group was to take the Chuo Expressway from Tsuru to Tokyo. From my home into Tokyo on the highway usually took 90 or so minutes. All told it was probably just a 100 kilometers. From Shinjuku it was not much farther to the Bunkyo District where the Tokyo Dome was. This was the only time I ever travelled into the city in a car and used a parking lot. Likewise, I only did it once more on a holiday to Osaka, Kyoto to Kobe. It generally was expensive. Since it was not an overnight stay I think the day max was paid which might have been 8000 yen. With four people in the car, it wasn't a major hardship.
When I first came to Japan I was at the Keio Plaza Intercontinental Hotel in Shinjuku which had rates fit for execs. The picture above is the Keio Plaza, the original skyscraper in Tokyo. Thankfully I didn't have to pay for it. Stayed in a few others in Tokyo that were high as well before settling on the best priced hotel near Rappongi called the Asian Centre Hotel. Even my Japanese friends outside Tokyo regarded me as something of an expert in navigating Tokyo for the best prices and fun.
The Tokyo Dome was built on the site of the old velodrome beside Korakuen Stadium in the Bunkyo Ward and home of the Yomiuri Giants baseball team. Once the dome was complete in 1988 the main tenant became the Giants and the old stadium which had stood from 1937 was torn down and replaced with the Tokyo Dome Hotel. The entire surrounding area had been a military base that was destroyed in the Kanto Earthquake of 1927. And way before that it had been a home to a Japanese prince.

So there I was walking with our group into the area surrounding the Tokyo Dome and and was struck by how much international media was there along with the full phalanx of Japanese media. It was a full spectacle. In short, it was crazy! I had the Japan Times delivered to my home so I had brought that along with me but that day I went to Kinokuniya Bookstore in Shinjuku and bought all the Japanese English papers Mainichi Daily News, the Daily Yoimiuri, the Asahi News and the International-Herald Tribune all had articles and front page newspaper stories. All the TV networks from Japan and abroad were there.

The only thing to knock the fight build-up off the screen was Nelson Mandela being released from prison after 27 years locked up. On a cool day looking at the screens, a young Japanese asked me. "What does it mean?" I remember my reply was: "It depends what is in that man's heart. It could be good for South Africa."

It was getting increasingly crowded as we moved through the streets to the Tokyo Dome. I was the only gaigin (foreigner) in a group of Japanese headed in. There was so much promotional material up related to the fight. I wanted to take it all in. Typical of Japan there was large illustrated pictures of Mike Tyson and Buster Douglas everywhere. Any movie or concert would inevitably have giant pictures plastered a high as a few stories. It was very exciting.

We got to the entrance of the Tokyo Dome and there were so many staff and security there. I've seen heavy police presence but this was pretty big even against those standards. It took a while to get in. I had my ticket and it looked like good seating and I didn't realize how good till we were directed to the floor of the stadium. I've no idea why thought my seat was in the stands but I did. I did know that the price was pretty high. I had offered to pay but was told no, I was a guest. Had I known that I'd have that money, I'd have bought Rolling Stones tickets as they were slated to play 10 days in a row in the Big Egg three days after the fight.

We found our seats and I realized just how close to ringside I was. Row 8! In that close, there were tons of business people from Japan as well as the world all dressed in suits. So many print and television media who were distinguished by their clothing. All the TV people well dressed and the print people not so much. There were many women dressed elegantly in evening wear. Keep in mind it was February in Japan. There was a coat check somewhere but initially I found the cavernous 40,000 seat place cool. That soon ended as things heated up.

Eventually, as the main event neared people started filing to their seats, a guy sat right in front of me. I thought, swell. His stupid head with blond hair was standing up and blocking everything. I worried about my sightlines and looked to the ring to the person to his left where a blonde with plunging neckline was sitting next to him. Looking to the ring meant looking just past her boobs. Made me mad at the guy in front of me. I wondered: Who is this asshat?

He was chatting up the business people in front of me who I overheard had all come in private planes. It was when the man turned to in side profile that I realized was Donald Trump. And the woman? I knew it wasn't Ivanka Trump because I had see pictures of her with him. In the 1980s, he and his public life where fairly well known even outside of New York.

What I didn't know was that Trump was there because Buster Douglas was the guy he was promoting. The Japanese I was with were less impressed with Trump despite his fame and more alarmed at who he was with: Akio Kashiwagi, a billionaire with dubious ties. How dubious? Well, someone behind me took a picture and one of the security people for the businessman took the camera, a throwaway Fuji, and put in his pocket. He didn't speak English except for "no picture." As reached past me, his sleeve lifted up and I saw tattoos all the way up the wrist. One of my Japanese leaned over to me and very quietly clutched my arm and whispered: "Stay still."

He probably sensed my annoyance for Trump and his stupid party. Thankfully, they got up from what was a temporary seating and moved in closer to the ring. The woman rose and leaned over to pick up the program and right in my face were boobs. I had just had a close encounter with Marla Maples as I would learn much later.

I was elated they had left as they were replaced by much shorter and much more reasonable Japanese businessmen who did not have stupid floppy hair or big boobs blocking my view. My Japanese friends were visibly relieved. They told me that the men with Trump and his party were Yakuza. I thought they were being a little over dramatic although my prefecture had many gangsters as well as links to prominent local Liberal Democrat politicians.

As for Kashiwagi, he lived near my home in a palatial house by Mt. Fuji. The visit in 1990 led to many trips to Atlantic City where he gambled in the tens of millions. I had heard about Kashiwagi's legendary gambling. The man had won $20 million in Australia and lost nearly $6 million in Las Vegas. He would eventually be Trump's special guest in Atlantic City and be up on the house in the millions upon millions. Some say the fear was he could win near $50 million and bankrupt Trump.

The truth is somewhere in between. Tens of millions were lost on both sides maybe more. Many of Trump's casinos were bankrupt by 1992 and in January 1992, Akio Kashiwagi was stabbed 150 times in his home by a Samurai sword in a case that remains full of mystery. My Japanese friends were wise to tell me to keep my distance. Picture below of Trump Plaza Atlantic City being dismantled.
But back to the fight. Tyson had black trunks and Douglas had white trunks. The moment Tyson entered the stadium was pandemonium. The crowds was in on its feet and cheering. Douglas came in and some in the crowd near us booed. The ring was so bright that all I could focus was the red Toyota turnbuckles and blue Toyota apron. The light in the audience dimmed to very dark and the crowd took its seat as the intros were announced. The audience roars shook the building.

The Round 1 card was hoisted up and the bell rung and the fight was on! Some people had bet it wouldn't last thirty seconds. The response of Buster Douglas disabused them of that notion as he took punches and dished them out...hard. I'm not a boxing judge but I was thinking Douglas looked strong and Mike Tyson was more on the defensive. As the rounds went on, it looked to me like the left jab from Douglas was making Tyson's eye swell up.

Round after round went past and the crowd got more intense. Douglas had Tyson on the ropes in the Round 8 and the suddenly Pow! An uppercut came completely unexpected on the chin and spray from the hit flew into the crowd. Douglas fell back onto the canvas. A ten count began and Douglas got up and moved to stand and by eight was back on his feet. Some people said it was a slow count but that was not my impression.

He stood and then ding! It was end of the round. Any momentum Tyson hoped for was lost as Douglas went toe to toe with him again and had him on the ropes a lot in the Ninth. When Round 10 was rung in, Tyson's eye was closed up from repeated jabs. It was about to get worse when Douglas again had him on the ropes and jabbed and hit with a right cross and then one almighty jab and Tyson was out.

There was an audible whoa sound from the crowd. A ten count was started and Tyson was very slow to get up and when ten was counted, he stood and was caught before he fell again. It was over and three belt titles ended up going to Buster Douglas. The crowd was awed and also cheering. History was made.
There was some speeches after and then the boxers filed out and the house lights came up and there as a bit of gasp from the crowd as the 40,000 people present became visible.The crowd left shocked and exuberant. The last I saw Donald Trump, he was leaving with other celebrities out a entrance restricted to VIPs. I was so thankful he didn't sit in front of me with that hair in my face.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Oakland Raiders Versus Green Bay Packers August 11, 2019

There will always be controversy about this game in Winnipeg where Oakland Raiders played Green Packers in Week 3 of the Exhibition Season for ticket prices that even the more ardent fans in the U.S. would have rejected wholeheartedly.

Me above. This fall I'm working on no sugar drinks. I started earlier this year just to be overwhelmed by my mom's heart attack just as I had shed some weight in the four weeks before. This fall I am now having to re-locate my business after 12 years in the same spot. Wish me luck.

In any event, I enjoyed the game despite the 80 yard field that Green Bay insisted upon and the pulling of 33 of their players to sit out the game. I had free tickets with my brother and family as a result of work done last minute to assist the game getting done.

It seems no NFL teams should be criticizing Winnipeg's field when Oakland's has looked like below for years.
For the middle of August it was not a blazing hot day or even amazingly bright. IG Field can be a steamy sweatbox in August for Bombers game. I went to the game with my brother and his girlfriend. The road was not nearly as crowded as it would be for a sell-out game though. A lot of tickets went out the last day or two but no one knew what attendance would ultimately be. My brother below.
Despite the high ticket prices people were festive in various NFL jerseys with both lots of Green Bay and Raiders wear being worn.

Without first comment, the rest of the pics that day. I had a good time even no regular players played and the field was short and there was no additional NFL experience such as a tailgate party. But then, I didn't pay hundreds of dollars.