Saturday, May 31, 2014

Wayfinding in Winnipeg

Winnipeg Transit Wayfinding
In 2003, Winnipeg became one of the first cities to create a wayfinding system that was coordinated with graphics and maps that would help navigate the city's downtown whether by the walkway system or driving. Add into the mix Winnipeg Transit, you had a logical and consistent format to get around the town.

It has been more than 10 years since the system has been put in place and more cities across Canada have come on board and have come up with innovative ways to improve the idea.

Winnipeg's unrolling of wayfinding was not without trouble. Costs were underestimated and publicity surrounding the plan was spotty. The city's website is not exactly informative about it and some the improvement zones have their own version of the mapping system.

To be sure, Winnipeg probably needs to re-examine the program, expand it and make it smart phone friendly. They could probably take a note from Winnipeg Transit who, despite controversy from the rapid transit debate, continue to try and meld technology and infrastructure. The Navigo app and signage with realtime updates is excellent and only getting better.

Special event signage is getting better.

Routes After Bomber Game
Winnipeg Transit has to think city-wide though. That is the mandate for the operation. Winnipeg's wayfinding though seems stuck downtown. It needs to spread out to other areas such as parks and recreation. Imagine the Winnipeg Zoo and Assiniboine Park coordinated into this wayfinding system on multiple platforms of technology and infrastructure.

A coordinated approach should be made for every road, every walkway, every cycling path, every business zone and all recreation and park service.

Winnipeg Transit is doing a good job in moving ahead.

Wayfinding at Investor's Group Field
The signage, the apps, the clocks on arrival times are excellent for Winnipeg Transit.

The debate aside on rapid transit...Winnipeg's bus service has increased ridership because it finds a way to work despite many misgivings about public transportation some people have, especially those in power.

There are map geeks all over the world and even in our own city. How often have we gone to a new place and had the delight of restaurant placemats featuring maps of the local area? It is a quick way to get to know an area. Quite honestly, we don't have enough maps in the city. It is not enough to have people use cell phones with a mapping system from Google.

The maps have to be extremely local. They have to be attractive, innovative and and informative.

Winnipeg Signpost?
It is good to have consistency. Winnipeg does not have a numbered street system so it is very important for people to have a common frame of reference. If a Winnipeg person tells someone to drive down Waverley to get the turn-off for the University of Manitoba, it may not make any sense to someone not familiar with the road. How many people in Winnipeg know that Waverley is Route 80? Yikes, talk about a disconnect between local knowledge and what is on a map.

While a bus may have the route number on it, it doesn't mean Winnipeggers who drive cars will know. It seems the city and province should sit down and come up with a signage policy that might incorporate the name and route number but getting the two governments to cooperate is always a daunting task.

Winnipeg's orphaned Wayfinding
The signage downtown and in the Walkway system is accompanied by maps to major areas of the city. Kiosks are present and offer maps for people to navigate the city street system, Concourse and second level overpasses. The problem with the system is the city's website offers very little information on the system. There has been adding of new technologies such as interactive kiosk maps, no new apps for smart phones and no use of Google streetview to show the walkway system first hand.

The wayfinding has not been expanded at all. It is an orphaned program that once was championed by Gord Steeves but has no one speaking for it now.

Various city wayfinding maps.
It is hard to see who in the city will champion wayfinding in the city. Other major cities in Canada such as Edmonton and doing a re-think on the subject and Calgary and Toronto have been adding to their systems with great effort.

We can and should do better. Now only is it fun but it is good business. It is entertaining and it is informative. It can be the way to distinguish your city and create excitement.

And for Pete's sake, we should do better on signage leading into the city of Winnipeg.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Spring Radio Ratings Broken Down

CBC has been slowly climbing year after year on CJOB. Now...they are in a virtual tie for ratings.

This past year, CBC tweaked their line up by moving to one host for their morning show. Winnipeg had been one of the last stations in Canada to have two morning hosts for CBC so Marcy Markusa was to fly solo. Beloved co-host Terry McLeod was moved to weekends and rising star Ismaila Alfa was moved to afternoons replacing Larry Updike.

CJOB was also going through changes. The nationally syndicated Charles Adler show on afternoons ended and Adler resumed his local morning show on CJOB. This entailed Richard Cloutier as news director moving to a noon hour slot in addition to his other duties. A revolving door of hosts in the afternoon from Laurie Langcastor to Karen Black have tried to make the timeslot work. Dahlia Kurtz was called in as a specialist to get the station back on track.

The big surprise for some was that Hal Anderson and his producer Olivia Billson were let go from the early morning show leading to Charles Adler's program. Anderson, a well liked host, has probably suffered from CJOB's loss of hockey broadcasting since the Winnipeg Jets return.

The switch to sport for TSN radio and capturing the broadcasting rights for Winnipeg Jets games as peeled away people who turned to CJOB for their hockey fix. How much? You would have to compare to the bottom ratings for oldies CFRW. It is possibly a consistent 2 points that CJOB has lost to sports radio. Heaven forbid if the Jets had gotten into the play-offs as CJOB might have done worse.

A temporary host has replaced Hal Anderson but in the grand scheme of things, CBC out tweaked CJOB. And TSN now battles it out with CBC 2.

In terms of music radio, it is safe to say that country is climbing back up as it seems to do every ten years or so. Classic rock, top 40 and hard and soft rock seem to be bouncing around although Power 97 has seen better days.

All is not lost for CJOB. The civic election may prove to be good for their fall book if they are the go to station for candidates. A few listeners might peel off from music stations to news radio. A major news story can make people switch. A good host can win over audiences.

CBC Radio has been rising steadily across Canada the last decade. In many markets it is in the top 3. It will be interesting to see if they can hold on with significant cuts in programming happening this year.

The next ratings period will definitely be hard fought. Expect to see lots of ads on billboards and TV during the fall. It will almost seem like there is an election going on.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Menchies Frozen Yogurt - Charleswood Shopping Center Plaza 3

Menchie's at Charleswood Mall
It has taken 10 years since the reconstruction of the Charleswood Shopping Center Plaza but finally every spot in it is fully leased. In 2004, a re-think was needed as Zeller's de-camped to Grant Park Shopping Center. This left the enclosed mall with a major tenant gone and an older less desirable property. At the time, the mall was known as the Forest Park mall reflecting the Charleswood neighbourhood that was built around the same time in 1978.

It was decided that a new concept of a strip mall, big box would be more suitable and where Zeller's once stood a new large style Shopper's Drug Mart and Dollarama now sit. Eventually, the whole mall and longtime tenants all did a re-fresh including Safeway in 2007.

There were only a few stubborn spots that seemed to lack for tenants.

The mall suffered a temporary setback just a few years ago when Blockbuster closed right across Canada but the spot quickly found a tenant elsewhere the coveted the larger spot. Pet Valu moved in fairly swiftly.

This left Pet Valu's spot forlorn till now. In April, Menchie's Frozen Yogurt opened up, the second location in the city after Dakota in St. Vital. The mall is now fully leased for the first time as a result.

Menchie's is a San Fernando-based restaurant that is rapidly expanding across North America. The variety and pricing has proved popular as well as gluten free, dairy free and vegan choices. Expect to see this restaurant snap up similar spaces all across the city.

Restaurants are a tough business and we have seen many chicken restaurants die such as KFC and Chicken Delight in the city. Also, there have been a few Quizno's casualties. The tastes of the public can be fickle and their price points also come into play.

The extreme expansion of retail coming on the market means landlords will have to be ever looking for places that are unique and can stay the long haul. We have seen some persistently stubborn vacancies in some long time retail areas of the city. The Charleswood Shopping Center Plaza is no longer one of them.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Walmart and Grant Park Pavilions

New Walmart on Taylor Avenue
Work has already begun an the Walmart Supercentre in the Grant Park Pavilions site along Taylor behind the Grant Park Shopping Mall.  It is familiar territory for Walmart since they once occupied the spot presently held by Target in the mall back in 1994. At that time, the 9 Woolco stores across the province were taken over and re-made as Walmarts.

Grant Park Pavillions
Shindico is the developer of Grant Park Pavillions and they have been shepherding a variety of projects along Taylor Avenue for decades. The site near the Manitoba Hydro building has probably been on a wish list for future development for years but it has been held back by the fact that major hydro lines cross crossed the land.

The hydro lines that had to be buried
A perfect storm of events conspired to make the land near Hydro ever more valuable. First, the land around Grant Park has a higher density than many areas due to many apartment blocks nearby. The proximity to River Heights and Fort Rogue has ensured that a number of stores in the area do well. This is turn has led to a decades long expansion of retail along Taylor Avenue. Sports, health and recreation including Reh-Fit and racquet sports clubs was the street's reputation in the past.

24 hectare, 60 acre site
Pembina Highway is very close by and for people looking to pick up something before heading home to For Garry and St. Norbert, a diversion midway to their neighbourhoods along Taylor is workable.

900 townhouses on park right behind mall
The dogear of the rapid transit goes right past the site of the new development and towards the new Park lands development still in the inception phase.

Even more traffic problems on Pembina?
All in much promises to be perfect in terms of location of this development. Big concern though has to be the traffic flows on to Taylor off Pembina Highway. Is the city ready for this? My guess is no.

So much new housing going up nearby
There appears to be a race for several shopping sites across the city. Most seem to be incorporating some form of multi-unit housing in their site plans and Grant Park Pavillions is no different.

Housing on site
 Some critics might think that no one will want to live on a site with so much shopping. They should perhaps look to the Superstore on Bison Drive to realize those mutli-unit homes are rapidly selling.

At some point this massive retail build is going to have to slow down. I am not sure when or how but I suspect a development past, present or future will founder.

It is interesting to note that Fairweather, the development of Seasons of Tuxedo has passed on the work of bringing the next phase of the Sterling Lyon retail project to others. They won't be putting together the factory outlet mall. Did they just think it was a good time to cash out?

The south side of Sterling Lyon continues to fill in but no new big box has been announced and built since last May with Cabela's.

One thing is certain that Winnipeg will see more multi-unit housing go up in many retail developments. A captive audience for those stores is the possible reason. Perhaps one day, we may see residential towers built atop of existing malls like Polo Park.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Richardson Family

Richardson Building Portage and Main
The passing of way of George Richardson in the last day at 89 is being remembered by many in Winnipeg.

The family has been the richest family in Manitoba pretty much in the lifetime of every resident on the province. Suffice to say that the majority of the people really only knew the name of the family through the Richardson Building as it seemed eternal and as permanent as the corner of Portage and Main itself.

Winnipeg's first skyscraper and still premiere address. Some people are not aware that the property includes a number of buildings including the Fairmont Hotel, another office tower, a parkade and part of the Concourse.

Many people on the street when asked might be hard pressed to name the businesses the Richardson family were in. To say they were an agricultural company would be to overlook the many other areas of business they were dominant in.

In some respects the quiet eternal nature of the Richardson name is the story of Winnipeg itself. Hard working, understated and doing many things, some of them very well.

We probably will never know just how many people the Richardson family and George Richardson in particular touched. Many other business people have indicated the partnerships they had with the family have been part of their own success. Certainly some of the people who have worked with the the family have done so all their professional lives.

And let's not forget about the charity. The Royal Winnipeg Ballet would not be where it is today without the patronage of the family. It would be difficult to find any cultural organization that didn't see Richardsons as a faithful supporter.

George Richardson had handed over the baton sometime ago. That is a Richardson tradition. The family figures out how to pass things along, remain private, remain humble and remain eternal for Winnipeg and the province they call home.

In so many ways, Winnipeggers will really never know the family but they will always know the Richardson name.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Jacobs, Petcetera Close in Winnipeg

Petcetera on Empress near Polo Park
It isn't always about store openings in Winnipeg. Sometimes national aspirations of some companies crash and burn and closures take place cross the country. We just saw that with Grand and Toy closing in Winnipeg Square.

In the last days we have seen two other national retailers falter.

Petcetera on Empress near Polo Park is among six casualties in cities in various provinces that have suddenly closed. The pet store retailer struggles along but it is now out of Manitoba.

Likewise, retailer Jacob has declared bankruptcy and will close all 92 stores in Canada including in St. Vital Shopping Centre.

It will probably be no problem for St. Vital to find a store anxious to replace Jacob. Polo Park and St. Vital are top spots for any up and comer retailer to make their mark.

Polo Park has decided losing Zellers is a good opportunity to invest and is spending $50 million upstairs and down to accommodate H&M and Anthropologie, a Philadelphia-based clothing, accessories and furnishings store. This renovation comes on the heels of the $30 spent in 2007 and the second floor addition in 1987 that cost $75 million.

Retail is a tough business. Expect it to be even harder for some established Canadian retailers to remain attractive to consumers in the future.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Scheels Columbia Mall Opens June 28

Old Scheels South Columbia Road
No offence to big Winnipeg sports stores're really not that big. River City Sports on Kenaston is very nice but it just 17,000 square feet. Sport Check at Polo Park is really big but it is only 20,000 square feet. Likewise Pro Hockey Life on St. James is also 20,000 square feet.

In 1989, Scheels built what was the flagship of their sports stores on south Columbia Road and showed Winnipeg what a big sports store looks like. It was 35,000 square feet. No one had seen anything like it before and over the years it has attracted Winnipeg shopper time and time again. At one time this was the flagship store for the company.

As reported here earlier, the lease on the old location for Scheel's expired at the end of 2013 and the sports retailer is moving into the old Target store in Columbia Mall. It has been 14 years of empty space at Columbia where the old store was as it closed in 2001. It has been a bit of a black eye for the mall along with a few other things closed on that side of the mall such as the movie theatre.

That side of the mall also featured a close four screen movie theatre for a number of years. That space was demolished and now an Olive Garden stands in its place.

On June 28 of this year, the very long wait to fill the old Target space at Columbia Mall comes to an end. Scheel's will open a 120,000 square foot super store and employ over 200 people, double the amount of the former location. As far as size goes, it is very large but not as big as the Fargo store which is 200,000 square feet and also houses the 60,000 square foot headquarters.

Scheels was founded in 1902 and is a privately help, employee owned company. It is a regional powerhouse effectively keeping some other sports stores like Dick's at bay. There are over 5000 employees. Many of the stores being built by the company are now coming in at 220,000 square feet with one monster store in Sparks, Nevada being 295,000 square feet. The Nevada location is now the largest sports store in the world.

A Scheel's store is known for special attractions. Some of them have a Ferris Wheel and aquariums. The Grand Forks store will feature a nostalgia shooting gallery, try before you buy archery range, various sports simulators. The store will also have a deli and fudge food service and Starbucks coffee. While the store will be missing some of the features of the Fargo store, it will be both a huge addition to Scheel's in Grand Forks and a major attraction in Columbia Mall.

Expect Canadians to embrace the store when it opens.

Friday, May 2, 2014

American Girl Coming to Winnipeg?

Tomorrow, two stores of the wildly popular American Girl stores open in Canada in Chapters and Indigo stores in Toronto and Vancouver.

Chapters has indicated that they will open 15 stores before the end of next year. The rumour is that Chapters Polo Park and Indigo Kenaston Common are being considered for late this year or early next. Only one is to be picked.

American Girl will occupy about 1,800 square feet in any Chapters bookstore they locate in. This will be smaller that the average U.S. store where the size can sore to over 50,000 square feet.

Many American retailers are taking a slower approach after Target's hammering in Canada the year it opened. It has been extremely costly for the big retailer and has given pause to others coming into the market. It is likely the reason American Girl decided to partner with the big Canadian bookstore.

So what is American Girl? Well, it is a 25 year old retailer owned by Mattel that sells pre-teen dolls in historical times. Most guys are not likely to get it but these dolls sell for over a hundred dollars in many cases. There is also lots of purchases a customer can make after their purchase such as hairstyling  and ear piercing.

If this sounds like a retail operation that should give its head a shake, consider this: Chapters could see a rise of between $20 and $30 million in revenue just having the stores take space in low volume areas of the floor space.

Expect to hear an announcement soon about when Winnipeg gets a store.