Monday, December 26, 2011

Rogers Closing Video Stores in Winnipeg

It sucks if you rent videos or games. The choices are becoming limited to small kiosks for videos and nothing really for games.

We keep hearing this is the wave of the future and that it is old technology, etc. However, as I have pointed out a few times, to access this technology, you need a high speed connection to the Internet, computer or electronic device or cable and satellite connection. Not to mention a subscription to a content provider like Netflix. Video on Demand on cable and satellite is still too limited in its offering, is expensive and has no extras.

People may say: So what? I get all my stuff with free downloads. Well, we have seen that those avenues are being blocked more and more. Could be a time soon when we might not be able to access things nearly with the convenience or lack of consequences.

Rogers Video Plus are the latest to announce a series of closings. Four of their stores are being shut down. It is part of a 40% reduction of their stores in Canada.

If you live in certain parts of the city, there are no larger video rental places left at all. It can be a good thing for an independent willing to stick it out but we have even seen the owner of Movie Village looking to sell.

Here are the stores that are closing.

1853 Grant Ave
Winnipeg, MB R3N 1Z2
(204) 488-4969

756 Pembina Hwy
Winnipeg, MB R3M 2M7
(204) 452-1234

823 McLeod Ave
Winnipeg, MB R2G 0Y4
(204) 654-1234

47 Goulet St
Winnipeg, MB R2H 0R5
(204) 237-7496

There was a point made here that if you wait a while, a DVD will be sold for around the same price as a rental. While that might be true of DVDs, it isn't true of games that they can be purchased so soon for so little. The rental places truly made it possible to check out a game and decide if it was worth it.

I know one thing that has happened since most of the video stores have closed around me: I have not watched as many new or older movies.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Bar Street For Winnipeg?

Top picture is 456 Main Street today where Fox and Fiddle will be located

Middle picture is Fox and Fiddle on Yonge Street, Toronto

Bottom pic is 456 as the old Bank of Toronto

In the last weeks, we have been inundated with stories of bars and restaurants opening, often in the downtown.

One of the restaurant groups in Toronto that has worked with older buildings is Fox and Fiddle, an Irish pub-style group. They announced recently they going to build on Main Street near Whiskey Dix.

Fox and Fiddle is likely to appeal to those looking for a meal, pre or post sports or theatre events and after work or as a neighbourhood eatery. It is likely to bring a slightly more mature crowd than the nearby Whiskey Dix. And this is good, since there should be a variety of crowds up and down the street if for no other reason than to create excitement but also a civil interaction.

Whiskey Dix has been around a few years, overcoming some violent altercations ending in death in its previous incarnations. At 12,000 feet, it is monster sized and has one of the largest patios in the downtown area.

Violence is the type of stuff can destroy any bar even suburban ones. Security for bars and restaurants is both an internal and external matter. Bars have to enforce no weapons policies and over-serving protocols. Police have to be very vigilant and everyone should be aware of zero tolerance of shenanigans.

However, a lively bar and restaurant quarter can also be a boon for cultural and business affairs. It is not enough to have the Fringe Festival or MTS Centre in an area if there is nothing to do before, in between and after.

The streets of Portage and Main Street used to be lined with offices and retail. We have lost both offices and retail to the suburbs and in its place we have suffered either empty store front or offices or worse, large surface parking lots.

We have seen a scattering of restaurants and bars in the Exchange District and elsewhere but never in a real grouping like they have in Austin, Texas or Ybor City in Tampa.

The addition of Fox and Fiddle on Main might actually attract other similar businesses. At 3,100-square-foot and $750,000, this is a major investment downtown.

And it isn't the only one. The old Chocolate Shop restaurant is being converted into a Mediterranean-style restaurant. That 3,500 square foot location has been a restaurant for years aside from a stint as a cooking school. Arkadash Bistro and Lounge at 268 Portage Ave will be getting around a $300,000 facelift.

Farther down the street, some major players are sniffing around locations near the MTS Centre. More on that in a Portage Avenue update.

We have been seeing some interesting developments over the last several months. Except more private cash to start investing. And time to get some of the large surface lot landholders off their duffs and looking at possibilities.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Shopper's Drug Mart Osborne Village Part Deux

Shopper's Drug Mart and Vietnamese restaurant Vi-Ann

After the first expansion plan went poorly, Shopper's Drug Mart is putting forward another plan. This time it has found two willing sellers to facilitate growth up Osborne Street.

Already there is neighbourhood resistance. The city's board of adjustment will look at the proposal in a meeting at City Hall on December 21. Expect a lot of concern.

Two things emerge from the genesis of this plan: The first is that Movie Village might not be long for Osborne Village. If the owners are looking to sell and are unsuccessful, it doesn't means that the movie rental shop will stay open.

The neighbourhood has already lost Blockbuster. This would be a major hit for the non-car drivers living in the area.

Now, some people will say no loss...things are going digital anyways but people forget that the seeing movies via TV or computer still requires cable, satellite or high speed Internet connections all of which cost money. Then you have to pay for content. This can end up more costly than a TV, DVD player and a rental.

However, this isn't about video stores. If Movie Village wishes to sell or close, it is their right to do so. However, it would be wrong to assume the store will remain a video store by resisting Shopper's expansion.

If Movie Village does close, chances are something would go into the location. Just not a video store.

The one business is this endeavour that is at the mercy of the property owner's is Vi-Ann. The restaurant doesn't own the building it is in and if it is sold and redeveloped, they might not have options about going somewhere else. This is a sad situation but one we see often repeated with businesses that lease space. Sometimes the owners of the property push you out in favour of other things.

Once again, stopping Shopper's to save Vi-Ann may not work if the owners of the building looks to re-develop on their own.

Both Shopper's and Vi-Ann face out to Osborne Street and have entrances to it. Movie Village has long turned its back on the street and looks on to the more lucrative Safeway behind it.

The street behind Osborne, more of an alley, really has become the choice route for pedestrians. It is a long stretch of street from Shopper's to the Liquor Commission where you don't see the same vitality as you do in the blocks after. With only two businesses having any access to the street, there is very little presence there.

So, what exactly happens if Shopper's gets its wish? Well, we lose two beloved businesses, both of which might be in danger regardless if the proposal is turned down. Will it affect Osborne? Probably no more than what is happening now. In fact, with a good zoning ruling on the proposal, maybe Shopper's can be persuaded to be more street friendly on Osborne. Ditching the frosted glass might help.

If resistance to the Shopper's proposal is about "fighting the man", it is as wrongheaded as resistance to Safeway's expansion in the Village.

Outright resistance to Safeway ignored the fact that the neighbourhood was successful because there was a large grocery right in the area. Some homes were displaced in the area for expansion but Osborne Village's entire history has been marked by development and increasing density. Dogged resistance to change would have left the neighbourhood a low density section of the city. Who knows? Had activists been at the ready long ago, it still might be a barracks.

I am in the middle on this. I am not against Shopper's expanding for the sake of saying no to a large corporation. I am also of a mind that no one should roll over. If Shopper's get the green light, significant consideration needs to be looked at on zoning to make sure Osborne Street is vital. The look of the building is worthy of consideration. Entrances, windows, colours should be appealing.

Perhaps one aspect that might be promoted is: Can floors above the Shopper's be built? Now isn't that a novel idea? A residential component, offices? Wouldn't be rather neat if the floors above a Shopper's contained a restaurant like Vi-Ann? Just saying...

We'll see what happens next week. An open mind will be good. Don't resist, don't roll over, be constructive.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Westport Festival

Plans and Location for Westport Festival

The Westport Festival is a new development being promoted by Shindico. It seems festival has replaced Centre, Plaza, Court, Common and Village.

I guess the developer thought a retailing concept called The Downs was too sad.

In any event, this development near the Assiniboia Downs is very large. How big? Well, bigger than the lot where Unicity Fashion Square used to be before being converted to a WalMart big box concept in 2000.

The Westport follows that same big box line with two very large box store locations with one unique difference. There is a listing for a large movie theatre complex on the site.

We have already seen that we are losing one discount movie theatre chain with the conversion Cinema City on McGillivray. What could this theatre be? First run movies, second run?

One thing is clear: The people of St. James and Charleswood have been under-served for years in the movie theatre department. The only real theatre in St. James was the King's Theatre and it closed decades ago. And the Polo Park Theatre in the deep dark recesses of the basement of Polo Park Mall was not worthy of the place.

Silver City Polo Park
has been serving the west part of the city since it was built in the 1990s.

That is a large section of the city where kids faced a very long bus ride in some case or difficult to impossible access if they lived in Charleswood to any movie theatre. It was one reason that for a very long time, there was a lot of video rental places along Portage Avenue.

The 450 acre Red River Exhibition Park is immediately north of the site. The eight auto dealers of Pointe West Autopark is right next door on an equally large piece of land.

In short order, things are getting busy in this area. It is easy to see the streets serving a mall, Red River Ex and the autopark are not up to snuff. Work will have to be done to avoid a three ring circus there.

So what big stores might be looking at those retail boxes? Well, a good bet is Lowe's. However, could not Target be a possibility? Kohl's would be the next dream store for Winnipeggers but there are others coming like J. Crew, Brooks Brothers and Crate & Barrel.

Only time will tell but fully leased signs are up in a lot of the city malls and some retail street strips.

The other interesting element of the Westport Festival is a hotel. Like a lot of others, Shindico hopes to capitalize on the nearby MTS Iceplex and the need for hotel space for the teams going to tournaments. It is obvious that there seemed to be no need just to serve the Red River Ex and Assiniboia Downs.

There has been a flurry of hotels built in that area after years of nothing.

The stretching out of our infrastructure and the traffic chaos in Headlingley is a debate that should happen as this project starts to take shape. Nevertheless, the increasing fully leased signs all over the city means that if we are ever to get certain stores, they will have to have a place to go.

To that end, the city continues to expand outward. Perhaps city council will continue to try and backfill spaces without some of the NIMBY-ism we have seen in recent weeks.