Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The De-Malling of the Northgate Mall Winnipeg

The Northgate Shipping Centre on McPhillips owned by a family outside of Manitoba seemed to be content for many years to slowly decline. The closure of the Zellers years earlier left a 120,000 square foot hole. Target snubbed it as a location and there it stood a testimony that the mall had seen better days.

It is difficult to say whether the take-over of the Zellers by Save-On-Foods was the impetus for rehabilitating the mall or whether the owners decided to make a change. Whatever the reason, $20 million has been allocated to de-mall Northgate Mall.

The first step was to find a replacement for the Zellers and that came in the form of the largest Save-On-Foods in Winnipeg. At 65,000 square feet and the added title of International to its names, it carries more products that any of the other stores of that company built thus far.

But that wasn't all.

The next step was to get tenants already on the mall to buy in to the full upgrade and attract new original stores. One of the notable add on will be Jollibee's, a Philippines-based fast food franchise that opens next week in two locations including Northgate. They will be Canada's first.

A new Tim Horton's will also be up to accommodate the coffee lovers of the area.

The enclosed part of the the L-shaped mall comes to an end. In its place will be the first location of Fit 4 Less by Goodlife, the discount arm of Goodlife Fitness. At first it was thought that Winnipeg first location for this division would be the Grant Park Mall but plans have since changed. Grant Park will get a large Goodlife Fitness and the Fit 4 less will occupy 25,000 square feet of Northgate Mall.

The city's only discount theatre Cinema City will continue to be an anchor in the mall and several longtime loyal tenants will get upgrades. Royal Bank, Reider Insurance and Medicine Shoppe pharmacy all factor into the re-furbished mall.

The northeast quadrant of the city has many people living it, lots of traffic down McPhillips but largely absent landlords in the last numbers years. Not a lot of love in terms of investing in the property in compared to Grant Park Mall, Charleswood Mall and along Pembina Highway.

It would seen that Northgate's investment has spurred Garden City Mall to action after years of neglect. Still, it would take quite a bit to beat the millions being spent at Northgate.

It is true that commuters will travel some distance to places like Polo Park but the need of good local grocers, pharmacists and coffee shops is always there. The danger for Northgate was that if they didn't invest, more and more stores and services would have left. Now, they might have the right mix and the un-mall style to rejuvenate retailing in the region. In fact, they have stores now that people will make a special trip for.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Long and McQuade Pembina Highway Opens

This past week saw Long and McQuade make the massive move from their location at 851 Stafford to 1854 Pembina Highway. The massive new store near the University of Manitoba will be an improvement over their rabbit warren old location that was just north of the Pembina underpass.

Long and McQuade started in Toronto in 1956 but one of their first moves of Ontario was to Winnipeg in 1971 when they bought Winnipeg Piano on Osborne Street. It was the third store for the entire company at the time. By 1975, they have moved to Corydon and it was there for many, many years that they supplied and taught so many artists in the province. By 1997, they were bursting at the seams and moved to 651 Stafford until this past week.

The musical instruments and lessons store also has a second location on Wall Street from the time they took over Gorden Price/Mother's Music in 2011. Long and McQuade did a complete reno on that shop in 2014. Mother's will long be remembered for their location on Portage Avenue near the University of Winnipeg before they moved to Wall Street in 1993.

The location at Stafford served the store well but the building was soon bursting again with rentals, repairs and sales work. It was obvious a building that was tailor made was in order.

This week near the University of Manitoba, Long and McQuade has opened their new store and by the looks of it, is a beauty. Anyone driving down Portage Avenue can't miss the pass with huge sign up.

Long and McQuade is all across Canada but this store for Winnipeg has to be the most prominent address they've ever taken up. One can imagine a whole generation of artists will pass through their doors.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

American Apparel Closing in Osborne Village

The American Apparel company went bankrupt earlier this month in North America and various companies are bidding on the carcass but no one wants the stores.

The racy and controversial store has had a home in Osborne Village for years but the closing out signs are in the windows now and the store has a short time to liquidate stock and close its doors forever.

This has created some alarm in Osborne as there are a few empty storefronts already and American Apparel occupies a fairly large space. The vacancy rate is a reflection of high rent on the swishy street. Too few owners of the land, too little give on rent and many larger spaces are now uneconomical. The solution could lay in sub-dividing the space and then a new vitality might emerge.

Osborne Village has succeeded because it a dense area with a main street running through it. This contributes to a diversity in retail and restaurants. Today, competition on Corydon and Sherbrook is something landlords will have to be mindful of.

Osborne Village is experiencing growth in a way not seen in decades. The demise of American Apparel should and could open up opportunities for the street in the days ahead.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Underdogs Kitchen and Bar Coming to St. James

Until recently it was the St. James Tap and Grill and before that for many years it was Dylan O'Connors. The location has always leaned towards neighbourhood bar and tried to appeal to the sports crowd. Standing at the corner of 2609 Portage Avenue at the side street of Thompson, the signage is up for a new restaurant/bar on the cusp of opening. The name of the place will be Underdogs.

Sports bars and grills are all the rage in Winnipeg as casual dining has taken a hit. Flat screen TVs with hi def have taken over almost every bar and Underdogs will have 48 of them for the sports mad crowd. However, the 7,500 square foot club will also have a gaming section for more active living guests. One side of the restaurant will feature zippo, ping pong and basketball.

The restaurant business can be very fickle. The tastes of the area can change, the location falls on hard times and places close sometimes as fast as they open. Underdogs has a proven location but the taste for dark and expansive bars has give way to brighter and more active places.

Look to see Underdogs open in the next days after a major refurbishment.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Cineplex Rec Room Coming to Winnipeg?

There have been rumours that Cineplex has been looking at bringing its Rec Room concept to Winnipeg across from Scotiabank Theatre Polo Park. This fall the first rec Room opened up in Edmonton with promises from the the company to establish more of them across Canada in 2017.
So what is the Rec Room? Is a state of the art playground with games and entertainment. They have bowling, ping pong, carnival games, simulators, pool, axe throwing and video games.

There also seems to be a performance area for dance, comedy and musical acts. Lots of big screens everywhere make the entertainment and restaurant area a ready made sports bar.

The area on Maroons Road beside Scotiabank Theatre in the empty parking lot of Polo Park Target seems to be where the focus is on now by the company. The feeling is that Cineplex would love to have the theatres and their game area combined together by a mere street crossing.

Each Rec Room costs millions to build and it is likely there is still some refining to be done on the Edmonton concept but Cineplex has successfully created value in the movie industry with bars, restaurants and games and appears poised to spread the concept to an adjacent property.

No announcement has been made on the now Polo Park owned land where Target stands but it would seem that nothing is happening too soon. A Rec Room might be the trigger for some further development.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Save on Foods Open Saturday November 19

The Vancouver-based grocer announced three locations on McPhllips, St. James and Bridgwater Forest.  Along the way, the old Zellers at McPhllips was re-purposed and the old Future Shop was done over. Bridgwater Forest was a new building. Around 1000 people have been hired from the nearly 15,000 who applied.

The popular grocer from the west is likely to trigger a price war in Winnipeg when they open. The biggest target will be Sobey's/Safeway who have struggled since Sobey's purchased the company. Sobey's would probably like to close a few more stores close to each other but they risk Co-Op or Save On Foods just grabbing the space up.

The McPhillips location of Save on Food is adding the work International after its name. It will be the largest location and carry the greatest diversity of products including many ethnic brands. There will also be many local brands at all three stores.

There has probably never been a more competitive time in Manitoba for large grocers going toe to toe than there is now.

Save on Foods also appears ready to announce as many as two downtown stores to capture the increasing population there. If I was to hazard a guess, I would say it the Skycity tower where one store will go.

It is possible the St. James store may sneak open on Friday.

All in all it is terrific news for Winnipeg and another great choice which should help keep prices very competitive.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Snap Fitness to Open largest Location in Winnipeg

Dayton Building with new condos behind. Picture:
323 Portage Avenue has seen a lot of nightclubs since the 1980s. The building built in 1955 and known as the Dayton building was originally a store and restaurant that lasted till 1983.

The decline on Portage Avenue reached a critical point for retailers on the north side in 1979. This was year that Winnipeg Square and Eaton Place (now Cityplace) opened. It was also the year St. Vital Shopping Centre and a year later Kildonan Place opened.

Portage Avenue became a street where the south side still was successful for retailers whereas the northside was marked by video arcades, an adult theatre and aging hotels.

Still, many people still came downtown for nightlife including movies, live theatre and retailing on the so investors turned the old Dayton's department store into Dayton's nightclub in 1984. Substantial renovations were made to the building to accommodate the specifications of the club including moving the entrance to the side street.

The bar proved a bit posh for Winnipeg and lasted two years during a recession before closing and re-opening as Times Nite Club. That club format lasted quite some time and was less formal. Winnipeg was going through a tough period of decline, however. There is a gap in my knowledge about how long the bar was there. It seems to me that there was another club in that location around 1991-1994 called Richard's American Bar before there was a return to the old name. Any help remember that era would be welcome.

A murder outside Times Nite Club in 1999 kind of affirmed that the area was getting dangerous. Coming in the same year as Eaton's closure, it marked a low point for downtown Winnipeg.

The arrival of the MTS Centre in 2004 assisted in stabilizing some of the restaurants in the area and breathed some life in what had been an angst filled time. The empty Eaton's building was subject to huge debate and ultimately was demolished in 2003 to make way for the new arena. Around 2007, Times Nite Club was renovated for $2 million and became Blush Ultraclub. It attracted a good crowd most weekends but by 2009 was really open weekends. In 2010 it closed.

The Winnipeg Jets arrived in 2011 and the crowds on game nights doubled in size. The Manitoba Moose attracted families whereas the Jets brought an older crowd willing  to spend money before and after games. It seemed a no brainer that a sports bar nearby would work. In 2011 the 4Play sports bar opened in the former Ultraclub space.

The concept lasted till 2012. Why did it fail? The problem was days when hardly anyone came in. And those early Jets days were a learning experience for people on finding before and after places to eat and drink for Jets games. 4Play Sports just wasn't able to get enough traffic throughout the week. The Palomino Club looked at relocating to the old 4Play location in 2015 but ultimately decided they'd better off on Main Street in the old Whisky Dix spot.

For a very long time 323 Portage Avenue's storefront sat empty opposite one of the busiest arenas in North America.

The wait to see what goes into 323 Portage Avenue is over. It has been announced that Snap Fitness is going to occupy just under 12,000 square feet of the front space facing out to MTS Centre. The back area remains unoccupied for the moment but 5,700 square feet awaits a new restaurant or club. Around $1 million in renovations is being done to accommodate the gym. It will include group exercise classes in Zumba and yoga. Weightlifting and boxing instruction will be available as well. And steam showers will be a popular amenity.

The new Snap Fitness will be North America's largest location for the franchise. It will be open 24 hours which is a first for downtown. Goodlife Fitness is already in a office tower at Portage and Main and the YMCA is west on Portage but both have more limited hours. The new Snap will be operated by an owner with three locations in the province already.
Restaurant and bars are a tough business at the best of times and a lot of hope was laid at the MTS Centre (2004) and Manitoba Hydro Place (2009) to generate traffic. They did. However, a true entertainment district was slow in coming. In 2010, the MTS Exhibition Center in the old Portage Village Inn/A&B Sound Building showed that people would go in great numbers to the area with the right attraction such as Bodies and Titanic. The success led to the construction of Centrepoint which will add the last component on their storefront when Brown's Socialhouse opens in 2017.

Downtown Winnipeg is enormous in size relative to the other cities. It is marked by areas of vitality and then along certain streets it is long stretches of surface parking and nothing else. There are more people living downtown in the Avenue building, the student residences at the University of Winnipeg, Red River College and Waterfront Drive. Still, it is hard to get the connectivity that was once Portage Avenue all the way from Portage and Main to the University of Winnipeg.

Snap Fitness fills a niche that makes the city operate beyond regular hours. People feel safer when there are more people in the surrounding area. Empty storefronts are like missing teeth in a smile. The addition of a gym across from the MTS Centre is a good sign that a neighbourhood is forming.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Movie Review: Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange originated as a Marvel Comic character in 1963 and was a favourite of the college crowd early on because the character was super as a result of magic and mysticism rather than mutated genes or from another planet. My first exposure to Doctor Strange was in comics around 1971 and beyond, especially partnered with others in The Defenders such as The Incredible Hulk.

Superheros were all the rage in the 1970s in various media. Marvel and DC Comics had TV versions of their biggest properties. The Amazing Spider-Man, Incredible Hulk and Wonder Woman all ran on television as early as 1974 and beyond. Indeed CBS commissioned a version of Doctor Strange that aired as a two hour TV movie in 1978.

Alas, unlike its counterparts, Doctor Strange didn't get picked up as a series by CBS but every decade after was picked up again by new Marvel talent for storylines  in the comics. The idea for a movie bubbled up for many years but not till Marvel Entertainment under Disney's umbrella come up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in 2008 where movie after movie would be linked starting first with Iron Man.

Scott Derickson (The day the Earth Stood Still) was chosen in 2004 based on his ability to write and direct and a script was hammered out with Jon Spaihts (Prometheus) coming in as co-writer.  The shooting schedule was adjusted to accommodate Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game) who emerged as the top candidate to play Strange.

The origin of Doctor Strange is what is journey was from being a hot-shot neurosurgeon desperately seeking treatment for his badly injured hands hurt to a sorcerer who has to look beyond his own selfish needs to protect the world. During his search he comes upon a man Jonathan Pangborm (Benjamin Bratt) who appears full recovered from injuries far worse than his own. Cryptically, Pangborn sends Strange to seek out the the Kamar-Taj in Kathmandu where he encounters Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who leads him to the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton).

Strange is dismissive of the mysticism until the Ancient One shows him that a whole new world on multi-dimensions exists that is reachable with incantations and sorcery. After being temporarily cast out, he embarks as a student of the mystical ways where he learns that a former pupil Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) threatens the world with the dark arts learned from stolen pages of a spellbook.

If the story sounds super complicated, it is made less so by the humourous interaction of Strange and Wong (Benedict Wong) who plays the librarian in the story. The only character who feels wasted is Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer, a colleague and former lover.

The special effects and 3D are some of the best in the Marvel world and the action scenes some of the most intriguing. The Inception-like folding of the city of New York is jaw dropping. Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One is an excellent character although the re-imaging of her being of a Celtic background has been declared a "whitewash" by some critics who note the comic version was Asian.

The story doesn't break new ground for superhero film but it is a strong outing in escapist fun covering a sub-genre of the Marvel universe. Cumberbatch is engaging and watchable throughout and the action and special effects are impressive. A best support Oscar should go to Doctor Strange's very clever Cloak of Levitation.

As with all Marvel properties, there are mid and end credit scenes hinting at further adventures for Doctor Strange. Plus a final credit hinting at future enemies and their motivations. Don't leave your seat till it is all over! Of particular note is a magical self-filling beer mug that will make you laugh.

Monday, October 31, 2016

C4 Central Canada Comic Con Aftermath

Another C4 Central Canada Comic Con has come and gone on Halloween weekend and when the numbers are finally counted in full, it is likely to be the best attended one in Winnipeg history. The newly expanded RBC Winnipeg Convention Centre was put to full use for the first time for C4. The weather cooperated and despite both Blue Bomber and Jets game occurring Saturday and Sunday, attendance did not seem to wain in the least.

William Shatner led a Friday panel on 50 years of Star Trek. The Pan Am room on the second floor hosted several other panels over the three days and the Theatre room hosted celebrity Question and Answer time.

So what was the best and worst of the this year's outing?

People: The people are what make C4 amazing. Lots of innovative costumes from men, women and children. It is truly a great family day.  Lots of people watching and just enjoying the day. The weather cooperated which only encouraged more and more people to go.

Volunteers: There are an abundance of volunteers who directed people around and were both inside and outside the building. It is a strength of C4 that they have this many people to help.

Costumes:  More and more people are wearing costumes and that makes for a great convention.

Arena: The open space of the Arena this year was a great size for displaying light sabre battles and the like. There should be even more use of this area next year.

Signage: The overhead signs were a good way to navigate. Sadly, I didn't get a map till mid-way through. It also included a schedule of events. I didn't see too many of those around!

Alleys: There was a Cosplay Alley and an Artist Alley, etc. A very good idea and more organized this year than ever before. Would love to see more to help with navigation.

Food Area: This has been a sticking point for years but this year the second floor had an area to sit and to order food. A huge improvement. At many tables, it just look like families were using the time to rest a bit before resuming their fun. A little lunch, a little rest and back up to the third floor convention.

Cosplayers: This year the Cosplay Alley featured in the main space and very popular selection of artists. This was a great idea and a good use of the expanded space. My only observation was that it may have even been better if the Costume Alliance and some related groups were all in that area. What star power then!

There were some huge improvements to this year's C4 so there is a learning curve as to how best utilize the space in the expanded RBC Winnipeg Convention Centre.

Website: It is not too bad and has good information on guests and events. I can't speak for phone apps but is a good start to any C4 adventure. It would good to see even more updates on on all social media.

So those were some of the best, what are some of the worst?

Line-ups: Simply getting into the convention can be a chore, Haven't got a ticket...must stand in line, arrived at noon, stand in line, want an autograph...stand in line. Now, success can do that and even San Diego's Comic Con suffers from this complaint. Fortunately weather cooperated but it could easily have been snow or rain and families standing outside probably would not wait too long before abandoning the day. No easy solutions here but it is something to think about for future tickets sales and event planning. Thankfully, lots of volunteers out helping people.

LAN Party: The large area network gaming area is not really part of Comic Con. I don't care for it on the third floor convention site. It is a separate thing with it own admission, takes up a lot of space and is not visually appealing. My opinion is that it should be moved to the first floor.

Genre Cars: I like them but the best place and most vehicles we ever saw was when they were in the loading dock area. This time wrestling was there. Would prefer cars there and wrestling where the LAN party is.

Celebrities: There were a few, most notably William Shatner, but it was a little lighter compared to a few years ago. Granted, they have more Cosplay people but TV and film stars still are an attractive feature. This year, like many years, saw last minute cancellations but it is good when the numbers of people are varied and deep.

Lay Out: Despite improvements on lay-out this years including a proper dining area on the second floor, the floor lay-out on the third floor could be better. Pipe and draping and skirting around the tables makes it easier for vendors and for convention goers it is more visually appealing and provides clear line for traffic.

Program and Map: I got a map but not when I got my wristband. It had a schedule on it. The map was extremely tiny in terms of printing. Calgary and Toronto Comic Cons both have program books. Would love to see in Winnipeg.

Don't want to be too critical of such a great event that attracts tens of thousands of people. The newly expanded convention centre opens up so many exciting possibilities. New sponsors and the like could also enhance the weekend event to include aspects not conceived of yet for the genre crowd.

It is had not to see a stronger movie studio presence in coming years with previews of movie trailers, visits by movie directors and writers and ever more stars.

The new construction of a hotel and public square between the MTS Centre and the RBC Winnipeg Convention Centre could play a role for incoming guests and break-out sessions and after parties. The timing of Halloween around C4 is an advantage,

Here's to many more years of the Central Canada Comic Con!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Central Canada Comic Con Coming this Weekend

The largest convention in Manitoba is coming Halloween weekend of October 28 to October 30 at the RBC Winnipeg Convention Centre. This will be the first time that Central Canada Comic Con has been hosted in the newly expanded building. William Shatner  (Captain Kirk) will be the featured guest and on the Friday he will host a 50th Anniversary of Star Trek discussion at 5:30 PM.

The convention had a modest start in 1995 as River City Collector’s Expo. At that time the hotel ballroom event featured antiques, sports cards as well as collectibles. Antiques were dropped and sports cards reduced when they show was re-branded in 2000 and called Manitoba Toy & Comic Expo.

By 2006, the name was changed to Manitoba Comic Con and focused on toys, comic books, gaming, anime, and local artists. In 2007, they started to bring in TV and film genre guests and attendance started to really take off.  The only facility to be able to handle the numbers for the 2008 event was the Winnipeg Convention Centre and each year progressively got bigger and better until 2010 when Wizard World purchased the convention.

For whatever reason Wizard World pulled put and the original organizers had to rush back in and salvage what they could in terms of putting on a show that was re-named Central Canada Comic Con or C4. Fortunately attendance didn't drop for what was the smallest guest list since 2007. By 2011. the guest list of celebrities and artists was massive and the show began to really go on a tear in terms of attendance.

The last two years of the convention have been subject to the near endless construction of the RBC Winnipeg Convention Centre. Despite the complications of using a facility being renovated, attendance topped 48,000 in 2016 and the show seems destined for even more success.

In addition to William Shatner, the convention features will Tia Carrere from Relic Hunter and several others. A fair sized number of comic writers and artists are in attendance. The Cosplay artists continue to grow with Yaya Han and Meg Tulley being a few of the several coming.

The 1966 Batmobile and Optimus Prime truck will be in the gallery of genre vehicles.

Wrestling team Demolition will among the guests.

The big attraction is people watching as C4 is the biggest costume event of the year in Winnipeg. The 2016 convention will possibly be the best attended ever so people should plan their days accordingly and look online for schedules of events or people they want to see. It all starts Friday afternoon and runs through till Sunday. There are a number of after parties that attendees can also look into.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Gooch's Closes

Gooch's Bicycle and Hobby Shop first opened in 1927 and for the next 89 years served Winnipeg. Sadly,
This is what is now up on a real estate site. A note in the door and on their website thanks everyone for 89 years in business.

I used to go Gooch's regularly for bike servicing when they were at 185 Sherbrook Street. The expansion of the Cancer Society led them to downsizing 3000 square feet and relocation to the Portage location which had about 6000 square feet in 2010. This had been in its previous incarnation Movie Gallery and another video store for many years.

 It is difficult to say whether this was a mistake or not but I always felt that there was more upside on Sherbrook than at 1046 Portage Avenue. There always seemed to more activity at the old Gooch's location.

In truth, the retailing sector on bikes over the years has expanded and grown more sophisticated. It was probably a challenge competing on price and selection. It does seem sad that has biking has grown ever more popular that the business that led the way won't be around anymore.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Spice Affair: Essence of India Restaurant Coming Soon.

Dhoom Indian restaurant at corner of Donald and York has been there for a while. A keen reader took a picture of the closed restaurant and discovered a sign promoting Spice Affair: Essence of India coming soon.

It is unknown how much construction and remodeling is taking place but there are a few new places to eat in the area. In its earliest incarnation the building housed a Pizza Hut for many years. In the last Dhoom was a sports bar and buffet.

DT Urban Kitchen + Oyster Bar is almost immediately across the street on York Avenue.

The massive expansion of the RBC Winnipeg Convention Centre across York Avenue and the large Chipman hotel office and condo/hotel project seems destined to draw far more people downtown. Both projects have taken up massive surface parking lots.

Sadly, Donald Street is one long stretch of parking lots and only a few places are actually street friendly in between. The Jets, Moose, concerts and conventions attract a steady crowd of people and some of the large apartments and offices nearby should provide clientele for the restaurant. However, the wasted space of surface parking lots is more pronounced than in many places.

Spice Affair and a number of other new restaurants, coffee places and bars are adding some life to the streets and hope this continues to be true.

The old Dhoom being converted
It will take some time to fill in all the gaps in such an expansive city such as Winnipeg. It is good the people still want to build restaurants downtown but building a neighbourhood is slow and organic. Too many buildings are bunker-like and decidedly not friendly to the street.

Spice Affair could be a sign of more activity coming down Donald Street and for that, we can all be happy.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Movie Review: The Queen of Katwe

In 2012, Tim Crothers wrote Queen of Katwe about young chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi from the Katwe district of the Ugandan capital of Kampala. Crothers, a former Sports Illustrated writer, managed to capture an inspirational tale of a young African woman in sport that rarely attracts attention. The book was reviewed well and got noticed in Hollywood for its plucky feel good story.

Disney senior creative executive Tendo Nagenda was of Ugandan descent and immediately optioned the book for the studio. He then enlisted the help of Oscar nominated director Mira Nair (Salaam Bombay) also of Uganda to sell the studio on the merits of a story. This wasn't as easy as it sounded since the story was primarily set in Africa covering a sport not high on the lists of Americans.

Nair brought in screenwriter William Wheeler (Ray Donovan TV series) to help with the interviews of Phiona, her mother Harriet and chess coach Robert Katende and filmed a short proof of concept that Disney could at.

Disney greenlit the project and in conjunction with sister company ESPN Films, a story and casting began to take place. The part of Phiona Mutesi went to 15 year old Madina Nalwanga found at a community dance class in Uganda. The newcomer was chosen after looking at over 700 girls in the country. The cast was rounded out with Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave) cast as Phiona's mother Harriet and David Oyelowo (Selma) as Robert Katende.

A feelgood movie can be cliched and lack nuance but Nair's direction captures the story of Phiona well. The filming in Katwe feels like a character unto itself. It has colour, texture and depths that give you a feel of the hardscrabble life of the poor in Kampala. Some of the scarier aspects of that community described in the book are left out of the movie but the sunny aspects of the vibrancy of the people are mitigated by what they don't have and that finding a place to live and eat is foremost on everyone's mind.

Phiona's father is dead and her mother, sister and two brothers and mother work every day to feed themselves. She looks longingly at the children with school uniforms and know that this life will never be hers. She can't read or write and her future probably will lead on the same path of her older sister who has taken up with an older man.

As it turns out, Phiona's future lies in the unlikely sport of chess taught by Robert Katende in a Christian ministry using sport as a youth outreach. Katende acts as coach while he waits for an engineering job to come up. He knows something about grinding poverty as he was a youth who lost his mother twice. Somehow, he overcame those obstacles and graduated first in his class in university. Still, he waits for his chance at the ministry while living hand to mouth with his wide and child.

Phiona has many obstacles to overcome and throughout the strength of her mother and her coach and to some extent her faith propel her from one championship to another. It is interesting to note that one of her humbling defeats takes place in Russia in a chess match against a Canadian competitor.

In the hands of other filmmakers, it is easy to how this story could have been ruined. A white character might have been made a focal point to better reach audiences, an older actress might have been recruited to play the lead possibly from the west, the Christian faith might have been pushed hard as a motivator or the source of transformation. None of that happened though. Instead a delightful, nuanced and character focused story unfolded that took the audience in and never let it go.

The end titles of the movie cleverly show the actors and the actual people they played and where they are now. Disney magic is often seen in animation but live action is sometimes hit and miss. This particular story shows what can be done with maturity and great talent. One of the finer movies to come out this fall and one deserving a good audience in seeing it.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Winners Coming to Grant Park Shopping Mall

There has been talk about it for some time but a Winners store is indeed opening in the space between McNally Robinson and Red River Co-Op grocery store at the Grant Park Mall. A series of store closures and moves inside the mall and of ones facing out to Grant Avenue are signs of the logistical chess game in preparing the mall for another key anchor.

Modern Taco Company is closed now and Magiccuts has a sign inside the mall indicating where they will be moving to in the future. Once all the spaces out front are vacated, the interior walls will be removed to create the larger space. It is unknown whether this includes an expansion outward to the same line as McNally. Both Shopper Drug Mart and the former Target also pushed out northward to create space in past years.

It seems Grant Park has been under construction for years and in truth, it has been. Only now one of the last corridors is being modernized in the same design as the rest of the mall. Canadian Tire is now open in the spot that Target once occupied. However, they did not take the entire space in July leaving room for Goodlife Fitness to join them on the east side.

Goodlife Fitness will have to do some work on the space as there are literally no windows or entrances out front to the space. Nor is there a trailer out front yet selling memberships. Expect to that and work being done soon.

The addition of Winners will make Grant Park Mall a strange hybrid of big and small stores. Not wholly a big box mall or traditional mall, it keeps evolving and has has big money spent on it to achieve success. Contrast this with what has been happening at Garden City Mall which has seen a steady decline that borders on neglect.

There is no timetable on Winners but the opening seems likely in 2017.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Goldeyes Win Championship!

From Goldeyes Twitter
It has been one heck of a year for the Winnipeg Goldeyes and on Monday night in convincing fashion, they beat Wichita Wingnuts 11-4 in the last of a best of 5 series of the American Association Baseball league. Every time the Goldeyes looked like they were down for the count in the play-offs, they battled back and for only the third time, they bring back a championship.

The previous years the Goldeyes won were 1994 and 2012. Sadly, the final game this year took place in Wichita and while Winnipeg weather was fine for a game, they played under sticky 33 C weather to win it all and despite tickets being $5, there were only a few hundred people in attendance. Imagine the crowds and celebrations in Winnipeg for a hometown win. A number of fans and team front office staff made the trek now south including owner Sam Katz.

It was a team effort for the Goldeyes this year. Pitching and hitting as well as good management in signing players and managing the team roster and game to game line-up. It is never easy to win against the teams that Goldeyes have been rivals with since the 1990s.

Congratulations are in order as this looked like a team in the latter half of the season that would not be denied a long play-off run. It took to the last game but they are the 2016 champions.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

IHOP Coming to Seasons of Tuxedo

They've fooled us one a few years ago with a site plan that showed a International House of Pancakes going up but this time it is for real. Seasons of Tuxedo has put up a revised site plan showing IHOP and Dairy Queen as among the first restaurants of many going up in the parking lot.
Construction continues all over the site which will be dominated by factory outlet mall Outlet Collections of Winnipeg. It opens next year. The Garden Hill Hilton Hotel is well under way as is the Porsche and Audi dealerships. On the west side of the mall multi-residential unit should be ready to go in the new year.
IHOP has never had a location in Winnipeg and given Winnipeg's love of pancakes, it should do well. The Original Pancake House that opened by the VIP Odeon Theatre has been very busy. The IHOP down the street is likely to see as much or more traffic.

Expect to see a flurry of restaurant announcements in the weeks ahead.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Winnipeg Goldeyes Beat Saint Paul Saints and Advance to Championship

It took till the final game in the best of five series for the Winnipeg Goldeyes to defeat the Saint Paul Saints 3-1. The divisional series was never a sure thing and at one point the team had to fight the odds on enemy territory to come from behind and win 3 games to 2.

A small contingent of Goldeyes fans made the trip down to watch their team win in the Twin Cities. the final game was a mix off defensive and offensive success. Goldeyes pitching was solid and when needed, the team ripped hits out of the ballpark.

The 2016 Goldeyes don't get much rest. They are back it for the American Association Championship Series against Wichita Wingnuts on Wednesday and Thursday in the best of five series. A forecast of rain may affect that schedule in much the same way as the series with Saint Paul was affected. The series heads back to Wichita Saturday and through till Monday if needed.

The team has had an outstanding year and once again get to prove it in a championship series.