Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Desperate Plea for Grocery Stores

Urban Fare Yaletown, Vancouver

Sobey's Urban Fresh, Jasper Avenue, Edmonton

Sobey's Express  Roncesvalles, Toronto
A desperate plea is rising from people downtown and immediate surroundings. The closing of three grocery stores even in neighbourhoods that seems to have housing such as Notre Dame and on Main Street is accelerating.

Today's Free Press had a contribution from a resident of a senior's apartment behind Portage Place who sounded the alarm.
Over the last several months, we have lost the Wagon Wheel, the Paddle Wheel, Zellers, including its grocery store, the youth hostel, the NRC Centre, and several and sundry smaller venues within the Portage Place complex.
We are fast becoming inundated with the losses.
Add to that the Winnipeg Film Group and Gio's niteclub in the last day.

Now, some of this is not all negative. The Wagon Wheel makes way for a fairly expansive and innovative mixed use of offices, hotel, parking, restaurants and condos. We can be sad for the end of an era but happy about the possibilities on a boutique hotel and condos might bring.

Gio's appears to be making way for some development...possibly apartments. This is a good thing. Gio's has had a few locations over the years. The takeover of their present location was made possible by the closure of a pizza joint and the fact of so much empty land. Hard times made for a good spot to operate and the gay and lesbian community now find that their efforts to bring people downtown have made their property valuable for other urban reclamation projects.

I suspect that Gio's will find a way to come back, perhaps to some place along Portage Avenue although one blogger suggested the Free Press Cafe.

The Winnipeg Film Group is also looking to move. Part of it is expansion mode but some is not. This is what appeared in The Uniter.
...surveys have shown concerns about parking and night-time safety are preventing Winnipeggers from attending screenings.
Night-time safety. Not good. I don't think theaters goers for screenings downtown are overly sensitive either.

Just one more indication that increasing the feeling of safety and security must continue.

It isn't an impossible task. The Forks is generally considered safe and not part of downtown. We need to increase that envelope of security through better lighting, more patrols and better planning.

It is easy to feel insecure and vulnerable if the lighting is poor, sight-lines are awful and where there is little pedestrian traffic.

But back to grocery stores...

We are seeing more people move downtown. Waterfront Drive now boasts a population where none existed five years ago. Hotels are being converted back to apartments and condo conversions are taking places in warehouse space and offices. New apartments are coming as well.

And yet fewer choices or no choices for grocery stores.

It seems to me that if the government ends up having to take over The Bay downtown, it would do well to go out of their freaking way to make sure that a Sobey's Express, a Safeway or any other grocer out there be located in the basement. They would probably love to be a in large government building.

Moreover, perhaps a few restaurants wouldn't mind being in the building at ground floor as well. If and when The Bay takes flight, the worst thing would be if the whole 600,000 feet becomes government offices and you need to go through security checks just to enter the parkade.

We NEED grocery stores if urban living is to succeed. Osborne Village is partly the success it is today because it has a large Safeway in the center of it.

If downtown condos can get a tax break, maybe a large new grocery store can too.

Otherwise, we are going to have a migration out of the urban areas of the city despite best intentions.


cherenkov said...

I would rather see the Sobey's or Safeway on the main floor of The Bay building. Why stick it in the basement?

One other little overlooked grocery store that closed down is Unigrocers. More of a convenience store in size, but many of the people in Place Promenade and that area relied on it. It got damaged by fire and never reopened, which was a big blow to that apartment community north of Portage Place.

Tax breaks for grocers? Perhaps ...

Anonymous said...

Please don't hope government 'invests' in a grocery store if Neechi Commons is an example of that. Took a stroll through the over-budget, not-on-time store yesterday and it was a real disappointment. Very small raw veggie section, high prices and empty shelves galore. Promised specialty and fish departments were 'coming soon'.
No stock equals no customers.( they did have lots of chips,though)
High prices equals screw the locals.
Other than that, it was wonderful.

ekimsharpe said...

hear hear!

if a fraction of of what was being invested in funnelators went towards a subsidy for a decent grocery store the downtown would be much better off for it.

Anonymous said...

Having worked in a grocery store downtown for several years I can assure you that the only way a business will survive is if it is run like a maximum security prison requiring bag checks and body scans. The reason most of the grocery stores are leaving is that they cannot afford to be "food banks". In order for them to show a profit they would have to increase their prices to offset losses from theft rendering them uncompetitive. Now would you be comfortable opening up all your bags, backpack and jacket upon leaving a store so they can ensure that they are not being robbed so that they can survive?

One Man Committee said...

Very interesting post. Here are a couple of my reactions:

* I've been skeptical of the idea that there is a food desert in Winnipeg, but it has become apparent that one is emerging. We have gone from downtown and core residents having a real choice (Extra Foods, The Bay, Safeway) to basically one significant player (Safeway) with a handful of smaller, less competitive alternatives. If Safeway starts abandoning what must be fairly marginal inner-city locations (Sargent, North Main, Mountain) then there's going to be real trouble, at least for residents of the North End. Downtown residents will still have access to the Old St. Boniface supermarkets (Safeway and Extra Foods) and the Osborne Village Safeway... not walking distance for everyone, but reasonably close.

* Very disappointing to hear that WFG is thinking about abandoning the West Exchange. I appreciate that the current location is very small and probably forces them to give up larger festivals and engagements, but seriously, crime? I wonder how many WFG patrons have been mugged or assaulted over the last decade... I'm guessing the number is tiny. Parking is only a problem in that you can't always secure a spot within 30 yards of the door... a hassle on a blustery winter night, but not really a big deal. Besides, all of the other locations identified as alternatives have their own parking issues. I wonder if the Parking Authority couldn't get rid of some more loading zones that still clutter the Exchange as though it were still 1920 and drays were constantly making deliveries to all the warehouses in the area.

Andrew said...

Not all the members of the film group support the idea.