Friday, February 25, 2011

The End of the Music Store

Winnipeg never really had the competitive next door music stores like Toronto did.

The retreat of the music store happened even before the advent of downloading. I worked at A&A Records at Madison Square during school in 1988. By 1993, the national chain collapsed. At the time, the company's demise could hardly be blamed on the Internet, Walmart (which entered Canada in 1994) or any of the factors facing today's music stores.

It is with sadness that CD Plus has announced that they are closing their last Manitoba stores. The company has existed in one form or another since 1962 in Winnipeg and was headquartered here.

Aside from the mall-based HMV stores and some specialized regional music stores, the days of the music chain are gone. The acceleration to online downloading has spelled the demise of the brick and mortar stores.

I can remember for a time from the very late 1980s into the 1990s when HMV and Musiplex on Portage along with A&B Music created for a time the sense of excitement that Toronto had with Sam's and A&A Records.

The music industry has been under siege for a long while now. In some cases, it is hard to have sympathy since people felt thoroughly gouged when CDs came out and they industry charged over $20 for those looking to update their library. It is easy to see why many figured the industry could go to hell when the Internet made it possible to download for free.

However, everywhere the industry and way of doing things gets more complicated. The Internet Service Providers are looking to charge heavily for those who download. Apple Computer with their Apps store is making subscription services for music even more expensive.

One wonders if the Internet will make it worthwhile to go a store again. However, if all access points to the Internet are going to be cash cows for cable and telephone companies, the stores might not be able to use the technology to allow for people to download in stores without paying just as much. At some point, as some experts have indicated, there may be a case for taking certain gatekeepers to various world-wide monopolies commissions.

For decades, the music store has been a gathering place for people, especially the young. The mall might be a lot of things but if bookstores and music places continue to disappear even there, many will stop going. We have already seen for the downtown that a lot of the compelling reasons for going such as music stores and bookstores have slowly disappeared (although some used book stores have helped ensure that culture hasn't completely disappeared).

So, here is a tip of the hat to Sam's, the Record Baron, A&A Records, CD Plus, Mother's and all the others that have fallen.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Dressing Up The Coffee Shop

Everywhere you go there is a line-up for coffee. It doesn't matter it is the local 7-11, McDonald's or cafeteria in a hospital. Canadians are addicted to it.

In recent years the announcement of a drive-thru or coffee-based restaurant is often viewed through the lens of traffic it can create. Obviously some love to drive in and pick up their double double but the prospect a Tim's on the street of those that use the restaurant is probably going to be regarded with angst.

The recent announcement of a Tim Horton's stand alone location with no drive-thru at the corner of Corydon Avenue and Stafford Street in River Heights should be cause for concern. The location will feature no drive-thru but that doesn't mean there won't be traffic issues.

Tim's will be joining Second Cup and Starbucks, long time rivals on Corydon Avenue.

There are only 15 parking spots that service the corner lot. If people don't think that is a problem, they should check out the Starbucks at Lanark Street and Academy Road. It is a gong show any time of the day getting around that area.

The Business Improvement Zone of Corydon hopes streetscraping will add 200 spots of parking to the area. However, will it really help with the Tim Horton's where people will be coming and going at all times?

Winnipeg is not alone is lining up for coffee but it is amazing how many places are choking themselves off with car traffic in proximity to coffee places.

It is fairly easy to see that a Tim Horton's at Stafford and Corydon will be popular. It will be busy. It will be a gong show.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Re-Branding of Hotel on Portage

One Holiday Inn hotel coming, one Holiday Inn leaving.

I saw a little while back that the Holiday Inn and Suites hotel suddenly had its named stripped from the exterior. I wondered then if the University of Winnipeg was about to announce another acquisition. Alas, the hotel temporarily re-named Red River Hotel and Suites.

Unlike the Sheraton Hotel that rebranded as York, The Hotel, and later was coverted back to apartments, the hotel on Colony Street seems intent on coming back better than ever.

The move of the bus terminal to the airport, the continuing expansion of the university and the Manitoba Hydro building are all compelling reasons for the hotel to take advantage of their proximity to all.

There was a time when the old Mall Hotel was about the roughest place in the city you could go. The Relax Hotel that went up following the demolition of the scary looking Mall in the 1980s was cheered by many.

The area around the University of Winnipeg is changing rapidly. It is being transformed and Portage Avenue is benefiting greatly.

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Holiday Inn On Ellice

The new Holiday Inn on Ellice Avenue.

I wrote back sometime in this blog about how appalling it was that the Howard Johnson Hotel had become on Ellice Avenue in the Polo Park area.

It was a shameful presence in the city and an embarrassment.

Now, there is news that the Paletta family of hoteliers is going to transform the building into a Holiday Inn, the city's fourth for this brand.

The building which originally was the Airliner Inn before it became a Howard Johnson. It was always a little less that its other airport counterparts and hosted a strip club and vendor.

All that has been swept aside with the new design. The main features now will be a conference center and themed pool area. All 150 rooms have been gutted and re-done.

Airport hotels are a hot commodity. The 100 room MainStay Suites has just opened at King Edward/Rt. 90 alongside the Comfort Inn at Sargent Avenue.

Winnipeg's first Fairfield Inn is slated to open in Ellice Avenue near Polo Park.

This is a huge improvement for the city and a big bravo should go to the Palettas for removing the awfulness that inhabited that prominent corner for so long.

Also, isn't interesting that all this airport hotel construction is being done with no government money.

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Monday, February 7, 2011

Bed, Bath Beyond Comes To Winnipeg

Bed, Bath and Beyond is coming to Winnipeg. The design goes before the Assiniboia Community Committee tomorrow.

The building will be located in one of the last spots left in the Kenaston Common shopping area near Costco.

The departure of Linens and Things a few years ago from the Canadian market gives this U.S. competitor a fair chance of success with its main challenger coming from Canadian store Home Outfitters.

The wish list for U.S. and international stores to set up shop in the city is getting shorter and shorter.

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Friday, February 4, 2011

Winnipeg Fire Department - 24 Hour Shifts?

Winnipeg firefighters are advocating for 24 hours rather than the 10-14 shift pattern they have now. Western Canada stands apart from the east where many of the large cities have turned to 24 hours shifts. Ottawa is the latest city to switch to the schedule on January 1st.

Firefighter unions have liked the idea for some time as some members live far outside of the area and commute. In Vancouver, for instance, some firefighters commute up to 2 hours each way.

Several years ago there was a report on where police, fire and paramedics lived and the answer was that many lived outside the city of Winnipeg, sometimes quite far.

The chief of the Toronto Airport Fire Department Mike Figliola has said that moving to a 24 hour shift makes firefighting a "well paid part-time job." His comment is probably referring to the fact that with a 24 hour shift, firefighters will work 7 days days of 28 each month.

It has long been known that even with the present schedule that, Winnipeg firefighters are hard workers and sometimes have other jobs. Some big residential developments in Winnipeg have a firefighter behind them.

On December 9, 2010, the Globe and Mail had an article about how full-time firefighters were behind a large business called Fireman Movers.

Firefighting is a hard, life shortening job. However, the taxpayer might have some serious considerations if the schedule set up lends itself to firefighting appearing to be part-time work.

The evidence that the 24 schedule is better is pretty thin. Moreover, since with Winnipeg has a combined Fire and Paramedic service, will it be a wholly complete different animal compared to its eastern counterparts? In other words, will our 24 schedule be far too much work for anyone to stand? If 60% of the calls are paramedic first response as they are in Vancouver, will it be too much to expect that after 21 hours that people will be as sharp as they were in the first hours? Big differences between the eastern and western fire departments on this issue alone.

If there will be support for the 24 shifts, the fire department union head Alex Forrest has to stop making outrageous comments that firefighters don't sleep on their shift. Really? You want to stick to that comment? On a 14 hour shift overnight and no major calls, the firefighters are not asleep? And in 24 hours, he expects no sleep as well? Maybe to verify that no sleep happens, the beds should be removed from the fire houses.

The empirical evidence is that where 24 hour shifts have been introduced in the east there has been a corresponding increase in retirements, sick time and overtime.

The 24 hour shift should not be adopted if the result is extra costs to the city and a mass of retirements of older staff who can't stand the longer shifts.

The taxpayers of Winnipeg will be expecting some honesty about what the merits of the program. It won't help if the union chief talks about how firefighters won't sleep at all during the 24 hours. It won't help if city officials talk about doing what is best for firefighters if the cost and productivity is compromised. Actual realistic assessment is needed and serious thought done about why such a schedule is good for Winnipeg.

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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Flood Part 2 - Sump Pump and Pits

As with all things government, the sump pump and pit program is likely to run into problems. Don't get me wrong: The sump pump and pit and back water valve program is a good idea. It should have been done years ago and it would have probably saved a lot of hardship for homeowners and the city and province alike. However, the retroactive nature of the funding is probably going to drain the funding quickly.

You have to wonder if the reason the province has never thought about it till now is because Greg Selinger has never had a flooded basement nor has a sump pump and pit.

Sam Katz had a sump pump and pit installed in his house a number of years ago. It is too bad he didn't push for this program earlier on.

In fact, I'd like to know who came up with the idea because it made sense to do it for many years now.

There are some people who have called the program a boondoggle. The same was said about the floodway.

This is a program that could save property owners hundreds of thousands every year.

There are a few things that the city and province should think about as the program proceeds:

- Make sure it is not underfunded.
- Make sure that inspections are not delayed.
- Expedite work. If a company such as Sturgeon Constuction was suitable in the past for work like sump pump installation, they are probably suitable now too.
- Think about extending the program to cover everyone who wants to be covered in existing homes.

There is no sense ending the program when danger will continue for existing home for years to come.

Sometimes the city and the province cause chaos with their expiration dates. I think the low flush toilet problem is a case in point.

This is going to save people money. It will benefit the city and the province in the end. Please monitor the program carefully and consider extending it.

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