Tuesday, December 29, 2009

McNally Robinson

McNally Robinson has been an important institution for Winnipeggers since the 1980s. Prior to that, people relied on Coles and W.H. Smith books in the malls, Eaton's and The Bay for books at the department stores and for an independent book store, they went to Mary Scorer, founded in 1959.

In the 1980s, Winnipeg Supply's John Doole took over Mary Scorer and ran them for a time. However, a new independent bookstore was just starting.

McNally Robinson was founded in 1981 and since that time has moved around to a number of locations until they arrived at their Grant Park Shopping Mall location in 1996. It was Winnipeg's first taste of a superstore for books and since then the city has had a love affair with that location.

The move from Portage Place to Polo Park for McNally may have been a killer given the recession and proximity to the Grant Park location. Computerized reading tablets were also a big seller this year which may signify a new trend in how people read books. It cuts out traditional booksellers.

Lastly, the brutal price cutting from Amazon and Wal-Mart has no doubt affected the bottom line.

On December 29, 2009 McNally Robinson has declared bankruptcy. The Toronto store at Don Mills and Winnipeg's Polo Park close almost immediately. The Grant Park and Saskatoon location remain open and will stay that way unless the receiver agrees to restructuring.

One thing I can say is that I certainly spend a lot of money at McNally in a year. Where did I spend it? At the Grant Park location for the most part.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Grapes restaurants

Above: Kenaston Grapes with its purple awnings.

Top Picture: Original Joe's 26th restaurant in Calgary.

Grapes Kenaston closed back in April of 2008 after 28 years in operation. At one point, there were six Grapes in the city. For some time, it was one of the few casual dining places closes to River Heights, Tuxedo and Charleswood.

I ate there a few times and at a few of their other locations. The menu as well as the ambiance was okay but nothing was outstanding. It is probably one of the reasons that they are reduced to their one location in Winnipeg at Pembina in the old Red Lobster building.

Month after month, the old Grapes at Kenaston has sat empty while signs have promised that Original Joe's, a Calgary-based restaurant, was coming soon. It didn't look like much work going on till now but new signage has gone up where the Grapes awning stood above the windows. Don't know when the opening is coming but it is the most activity seen yet from the papered over windows of the former Grapes.

Back in January, we were told that it was going to be a $300,000 reno of the old place. I don't believe work took place though until now. Given that the Linen and Things conversion was announced at the same time last year, we can see that a reno can and does happen fairly quickly when the client is driven to get the job done fast.

Good to see though that something is happening in this once successful restaurant location.

By the way, next door the Real Canadian Superstore was putting up its own huge lit up signs. The colour scheme is red, white and blue and the Superstore lettering is in huge red letters.

I mentioned that Grapes was down to one location. The Grapes Leon's location is now the second location for Hu's on First. Radio ads have been heavily promoting it as Hu's Bistro. It might be a good location for them.

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Pay on the Reserves

Compensation for public officials is always in the news and rightly so.

There is particular attention being paid to the Peguis First Nation.

The reserve north of the city has about 7 thousand people as members. The pay for the chief and band council easily rivals the highest for elected officials in the province. Heck, they even rival their fellow chiefs and council members in the province.

Many of the councillors earn more than the prime minister of Canada.

Peguis Chief Glenn Hudson has said part of the problem was with the old chief and council and that he has lowered the pay but even at a cap of $170,000, he still rivals elected officials representing far larger populations.

Hudson has said that his education and ability to bring in large claim settlements warrants the high pay. I guess we'll see if that argument sways the vote in the next election. One thing is certain is that poor people on reserves probably can only stomach so much.

This will be a made in Penguis decision regardless. Let's hope that some humility and some sense shakes the elected officials into accepting pay more in keeping with their fellow First Nations.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Coach Kelly Charged With Assault

Can the news get any worse for the Bombers?

Now, Coach Kelly charged with assault.

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Bomber GM Resigning

With so little information about the resignation, it is hard not to think it is not linked to the recent board of directors meeting.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Crime in Winnipeg

There seems universal disgust at the latest fatality due to car theft in Winnipeg. Sadly, this latest death many be connected to the death of a taxicab driver just last year.

The suspect involved in this latest crash looks to have evaded the conditions that were imposed on him from the last incident. Certainly there will be questions asked about how that could have happened. And no, a helicopter probably wouldn't have stopped the crime.

According to Statistics Canada, Winnipeg bucked the trend for 10 years with an increase in violent crime from 1998 to 2007. In 2008, Winnipeg had the distinction of being the car theft capital in Canada 11 years in a row. It was also the city with the highest murder rate in that year.

While car theft is down according to the police and Manitoba Public Insurance, it is still a major problem. Immobilizers and police monitoring have helped but it is questionable whether rehabilitation for the offenders has worked.

The big push we have seen for a helicopter and the insistence that it would be helpful in car theft remains an argument not presently supported by statistics. It certainly wouldn't stop a car thief. It certainly might help track a stolen car if the police have knowledge of its theft and a general location where to look. But would it stop the driver from the initial theft? That seems rather doubtful.

There may be some statistics that show how a police helicopter would be effective but the British who use them say they are best for pursuit, surveillance and tracking.

The city and the province seem motivated to get a helicopter but I suspect it will be hard to show how that it would be better than say, any number of other police, justice or social service alternatives.

Winnipeg has a drug problem. It has a fetal alcohol problem. It has a poverty problem. So much of our crime derives from these areas. Certainly we can arrest and imprison ever growing numbers of people in our already overcrowded prisons but then we might have a big deficit problem.

Winnipeg has the largest force per capita in Canada along with Montreal. Winnipeg has 186 officers per 100,000. We could do better. Thunder Bay has 217 officers per 100,000. Given our acknowledged high crime rate, we could stand to have a force at least as big as Regina's at 196 per 100,000 people.

I certainly don't know about the merits of a police helicopter in preventing crime but I do know more police dedicated to gangs, traffic, robbery and the like will have an impact on enforcement as well as prevention.

Still, if we don't address issues surrounding drugs and alcohol and still depressing numbers in poverty, we could have a force of 300 per 100,000 and still be confounded by crime. The Winnipeg Police Advisory Board offered a rather bleak assessment of crime in Winnipeg. The report recommended a number of things including getting to the roots of why crime is happening in Winnipeg.

From the city of Winnipeg's perspective though, overall police numbers would probably be more effective than buying a helicopter.

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

NDP to Formally Run Candidates for Winnipeg

There have been informal ties that city councillors over the last years for all three parties. Only the NDP have had formal political ties in the past to their provincial counterparts. During the 1970s and 1980s, the NDP ran under a party banner. Some candidates won under the banner while others.

In the next election, the NDP plans to hold nominations for an NDP slate of candidate where more that one member wants to run in a ward.

At present there are five provincial members of the NDP on Council. They are Jenny Gerbasi (Fort Rouge), Lillian Thomas (Elmwood), Dan Vandal (St. Boniface), Harvey Smith (Daniel McIntyre) and Russ Wyatt (Transcona).

It appears that Harvey Smith will face a challenge in receiving the NDP nomination.

Most, if not all, of the other Councillors have ties to the Liberals and the Conservatives.

Sam Katz has suggested that party politics don't belong in City Hall. He is a little disingenuous on the subject. Historically, there have been party slates and even now Council is set up more on the lines of government and opposition with the mayor picking a cabinet.

Still, I don't know that the NDP will find greater success than they have now by formalizing municipal ties.

My feeling is that if one wants to see party politics at City Hall, it has to begin with how local government is set up. And that direction comes from the province. It isn't something that councillors can do themselves.

I don't see a driving force from the electorate in regards to party politics at the municipal level. However, it is not hard to see that the status quo in city politics results in almost no change in the people elected. The last time I heard, Winnipeg has some of the longest serving councillors in Canada.

Is that a reflection of satisfaction or is it an indication that it is difficult to challenge sitting councillors to the point of impossible?

Too much happens at City Hall behind closed doors and party affiliations, caucusing and the like happen whether people want to admit it or not. Perhaps it is time to see the process formalized. It will be interesting to see if the NDP succeed in raising their profile locally by doing this.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Insults, Boorish Behaviour and Other Internet Silliness

It always amazes me when some people act out on forums and blogs on the Internet. Many seem to do it because they are anonymous and really can't be held to account for it. We see this type of posting on websites for the Free Press and the CBC. It really amounts to a driveby where someone posts a shot at something or someone.

I can't say I find much value in the anonymous posting after a new story. It seems the refuge of those prone to less than thoughtful comments. Even with the presence of a moderator, it seems a corrupt process of airing an opinion.

There are some blogs that are written by anonymous writers. Numerous reasons exist why people write anonymously but throughout history it has been problematic because the identity of the writer is important in determining the authenticity of the writing. While some writers are compelling and write cogent thoughts, there is always a little doubt as well as questions about the writer themselves.

Some anonymous bloggers use their anonymity to act poisonously. We have seen in recent lawsuits that this has limits. Many fall short of crossing that limit but still act out in their writing. Some are admired for it while others are reviled. The same issue of authenticity keeps coming up though. Does the writer really have these views or is it just blowing smoke?

We have seen a few bloggers from Winnipeg that go to great length to spread mischief, don't allow for anyone to contradict them with commentary on their posts and correct complete inaccuracies with no admission they were wrong in the first place. Eventually the credibility of these writers is hurt.

Many anonymous posters and bloggers use insults and boorish behaviour to make their points. It can get really tiresome and has hurt more than one forum.

In recent days, it hasn't been anonymous posters and bloggers who I have encountered exhibiting insulting and boorish behaviour, it is people who actually who can be identified by name. For those who have seen my posts in Winnipeg blogs, I generally try to be civil even if expressing an opinion.

I do admit that I have gotten carried away on political forums although I have kept it within the parameters of being evicted from the forum and tried to stay to the topic at hand. With that in mind, I often don't react immediately to the type of personalizing that can happen. Nowadays, when it happens I find the best response is to ignore such people.

I'll always express my view as well as defend it but I feel no need to act as someone's foil while they insult and act out.

Sadly, I had to disengage from a poster today. I won't bother stating who has earned an ignore. Those tracking a number of different blogs in Winnipeg will know. It is unlikely that any response I made was going to end the behaviour so I felt it was for the best. Still, you wonder how such a person acts in public? Do they call people names to their faces? I can't imagine that ends well.

I'd like to say though that the majority of people I see post or have posted to me in local forums and blogs have been civil, thoughtful and a credit to their person. Hope to see a lot more of that in the years ahead.

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Sunday, December 6, 2009


I mentioned a while back that Charleswood has had an influx of Japanese restaurants in the last year and a bit with Sushi Park and Asahi.

River Heights has been going the same way the last years. I noticed this week that a small sushi restaurant named Kudara is opening in the former cat and dog pet supply store It's Raining Cats and Dogs On Academy Road. The pet store has moved closer to the St. James bridge on Academy. Right next door is a spay and neuter clinic which has been at their location for a few years now.

Kudara joins California Sushi and Asoyama Sushi which are between Lanark and Beaverbrook Street.

Is it too much to ask for some Indian restaurants now?

By the way, Lux for Sprouts, a kids store moved from its Academy Road location to the new building built on the Anglican church site at Lanark and Corydon.

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Parking, parking, parking part 1

There has been a heated debate about the issue of parking in the city of Winnipeg.

I have been following the story in the Manitoban about the situation at the University of Manitoba and Free Press and Sun have been reporting about the issue downtown and the Health Sciences Centre.

In the case of the University of Manitoba, it has been a point/counterpoint argument. People interviewed on the story for parking there complained about how difficult it was too find parking. Many have simply told the complainers to take the bus. The response is that Pembina buses are often filled and pass by people waiting at stops until the next bus arrives.

The university only built a parkade in the last years and it is often filled to capacity.

Now, I can't speak to the issue of what is going on at the University of Manitoba but let's be clear: The university is not easy for everyone to get to no matter what mode of transportation ones takes. Walking, cycling, public transit and cars all have problems in terms of time, availability, distance, exposure to the elements and personal danger.

There are 6,400 cars going back and forth to the University of Manitoban. That number won't go down substantially unless the university does more to increase usage, availability and convenience of public transit to the students and faculty.

The new transit corridor the city is building may help a bit in terms of traffic along one path. However, it will be quite some time before it is in place.

It is possible that the university has oversold the parking spaces it does have on campus. This has been suggested by some but not confirmed by parking managers at the U of M.

In the end, whatever the reason is for the parking issues, it is important to realize that they are indeed issues. It doesn't help to tell people to get to the university earlier if it means that parking spots are filled earlier. It will still be musical chairs where someone doesn't get a spot.

In the meantime, what can be done? In terms of parking, the university has to get more people into carpools. With greater financial incentives and possibly better parking spots for people transporting a certain number of students, it is possible to reduce the amount of cars heading to the university.

Long term, the university would do well to have more people living on campus rather than commuting.

Where the university has no real control is in terms of available city-wide buses or climate controlled shelters for people to wait for them. As one student has indicated, waiting for a bus and then taking a bus over a great distance can be time consuming. Perhaps that can be mitigated by ever greater park and ride express buses to the university.

Whatever the choices, they won't happen soon enough for some students to benefit.

We live in a car world. The location of the University of Manitoba contributes to the problem but it is unlikely we are going to see that change. Nor are we going to see an end to the car given the sprawl of the city. The only thing that will help is to find ways of reducing the car traffic to the university that works for students and faculty.

I will address the issue of Health Sciences Centre in another posts as that affects the University of Manitoba Bannatyne campus and the hospital together.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Google brings Street View to Winnipeg

The Free Press building as featured on Google Streetview.

It is now up late Tuesday.

Winnipeg looks good.

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