Tuesday, November 29, 2016

American Apparel Closing in Osborne Village

The American Apparel company went bankrupt earlier this month in North America and various companies are bidding on the carcass but no one wants the stores.

The racy and controversial store has had a home in Osborne Village for years but the closing out signs are in the windows now and the store has a short time to liquidate stock and close its doors forever.

This has created some alarm in Osborne as there are a few empty storefronts already and American Apparel occupies a fairly large space. The vacancy rate is a reflection of high rent on the swishy street. Too few owners of the land, too little give on rent and many larger spaces are now uneconomical. The solution could lay in sub-dividing the space and then a new vitality might emerge.

Osborne Village has succeeded because it a dense area with a main street running through it. This contributes to a diversity in retail and restaurants. Today, competition on Corydon and Sherbrook is something landlords will have to be mindful of.

Osborne Village is experiencing growth in a way not seen in decades. The demise of American Apparel should and could open up opportunities for the street in the days ahead.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Underdogs Kitchen and Bar Coming to St. James

Until recently it was the St. James Tap and Grill and before that for many years it was Dylan O'Connors. The location has always leaned towards neighbourhood bar and tried to appeal to the sports crowd. Standing at the corner of 2609 Portage Avenue at the side street of Thompson, the signage is up for a new restaurant/bar on the cusp of opening. The name of the place will be Underdogs.

Sports bars and grills are all the rage in Winnipeg as casual dining has taken a hit. Flat screen TVs with hi def have taken over almost every bar and Underdogs will have 48 of them for the sports mad crowd. However, the 7,500 square foot club will also have a gaming section for more active living guests. One side of the restaurant will feature zippo, ping pong and basketball.

The restaurant business can be very fickle. The tastes of the area can change, the location falls on hard times and places close sometimes as fast as they open. Underdogs has a proven location but the taste for dark and expansive bars has give way to brighter and more active places.

Look to see Underdogs open in the next days after a major refurbishment.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Save on Foods Open Saturday November 19

The Vancouver-based grocer announced three locations on McPhllips, St. James and Bridgwater Forest.  Along the way, the old Zellers at McPhllips was re-purposed and the old Future Shop was done over. Bridgwater Forest was a new building. Around 1000 people have been hired from the nearly 15,000 who applied.

The popular grocer from the west is likely to trigger a price war in Winnipeg when they open. The biggest target will be Sobey's/Safeway who have struggled since Sobey's purchased the company. Sobey's would probably like to close a few more stores close to each other but they risk Co-Op or Save On Foods just grabbing the space up.

The McPhillips location of Save on Food is adding the work International after its name. It will be the largest location and carry the greatest diversity of products including many ethnic brands. There will also be many local brands at all three stores.

There has probably never been a more competitive time in Manitoba for large grocers going toe to toe than there is now.

Save on Foods also appears ready to announce as many as two downtown stores to capture the increasing population there. If I was to hazard a guess, I would say it the Skycity tower where one store will go.

It is possible the St. James store may sneak open on Friday.

All in all it is terrific news for Winnipeg and another great choice which should help keep prices very competitive.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Snap Fitness to Open largest Location in Winnipeg

Dayton Building with new condos behind. Picture: Skyscrapers.com
323 Portage Avenue has seen a lot of nightclubs since the 1980s. The building built in 1955 and known as the Dayton building was originally a store and restaurant that lasted till 1983.

The decline on Portage Avenue reached a critical point for retailers on the north side in 1979. This was year that Winnipeg Square and Eaton Place (now Cityplace) opened. It was also the year St. Vital Shopping Centre and a year later Kildonan Place opened.

Portage Avenue became a street where the south side still was successful for retailers whereas the northside was marked by video arcades, an adult theatre and aging hotels.

Still, many people still came downtown for nightlife including movies, live theatre and retailing on the so investors turned the old Dayton's department store into Dayton's nightclub in 1984. Substantial renovations were made to the building to accommodate the specifications of the club including moving the entrance to the side street.

The bar proved a bit posh for Winnipeg and lasted two years during a recession before closing and re-opening as Times Nite Club. That club format lasted quite some time and was less formal. Winnipeg was going through a tough period of decline, however. There is a gap in my knowledge about how long the bar was there. It seems to me that there was another club in that location around 1991-1994 called Richard's American Bar before there was a return to the old name. Any help remember that era would be welcome.

A murder outside Times Nite Club in 1999 kind of affirmed that the area was getting dangerous. Coming in the same year as Eaton's closure, it marked a low point for downtown Winnipeg.

The arrival of the MTS Centre in 2004 assisted in stabilizing some of the restaurants in the area and breathed some life in what had been an angst filled time. The empty Eaton's building was subject to huge debate and ultimately was demolished in 2003 to make way for the new arena. Around 2007, Times Nite Club was renovated for $2 million and became Blush Ultraclub. It attracted a good crowd most weekends but by 2009 was really open weekends. In 2010 it closed.

The Winnipeg Jets arrived in 2011 and the crowds on game nights doubled in size. The Manitoba Moose attracted families whereas the Jets brought an older crowd willing  to spend money before and after games. It seemed a no brainer that a sports bar nearby would work. In 2011 the 4Play sports bar opened in the former Ultraclub space.

The concept lasted till 2012. Why did it fail? The problem was days when hardly anyone came in. And those early Jets days were a learning experience for people on finding before and after places to eat and drink for Jets games. 4Play Sports just wasn't able to get enough traffic throughout the week. The Palomino Club looked at relocating to the old 4Play location in 2015 but ultimately decided they'd better off on Main Street in the old Whisky Dix spot.

For a very long time 323 Portage Avenue's storefront sat empty opposite one of the busiest arenas in North America.

The wait to see what goes into 323 Portage Avenue is over. It has been announced that Snap Fitness is going to occupy just under 12,000 square feet of the front space facing out to MTS Centre. The back area remains unoccupied for the moment but 5,700 square feet awaits a new restaurant or club. Around $1 million in renovations is being done to accommodate the gym. It will include group exercise classes in Zumba and yoga. Weightlifting and boxing instruction will be available as well. And steam showers will be a popular amenity.

The new Snap Fitness will be North America's largest location for the franchise. It will be open 24 hours which is a first for downtown. Goodlife Fitness is already in a office tower at Portage and Main and the YMCA is west on Portage but both have more limited hours. The new Snap will be operated by an owner with three locations in the province already.
Restaurant and bars are a tough business at the best of times and a lot of hope was laid at the MTS Centre (2004) and Manitoba Hydro Place (2009) to generate traffic. They did. However, a true entertainment district was slow in coming. In 2010, the MTS Exhibition Center in the old Portage Village Inn/A&B Sound Building showed that people would go in great numbers to the area with the right attraction such as Bodies and Titanic. The success led to the construction of Centrepoint which will add the last component on their storefront when Brown's Socialhouse opens in 2017.

Downtown Winnipeg is enormous in size relative to the other cities. It is marked by areas of vitality and then along certain streets it is long stretches of surface parking and nothing else. There are more people living downtown in the Avenue building, the student residences at the University of Winnipeg, Red River College and Waterfront Drive. Still, it is hard to get the connectivity that was once Portage Avenue all the way from Portage and Main to the University of Winnipeg.

Snap Fitness fills a niche that makes the city operate beyond regular hours. People feel safer when there are more people in the surrounding area. Empty storefronts are like missing teeth in a smile. The addition of a gym across from the MTS Centre is a good sign that a neighbourhood is forming.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Movie Review: Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange originated as a Marvel Comic character in 1963 and was a favourite of the college crowd early on because the character was super as a result of magic and mysticism rather than mutated genes or from another planet. My first exposure to Doctor Strange was in comics around 1971 and beyond, especially partnered with others in The Defenders such as The Incredible Hulk.

Superheros were all the rage in the 1970s in various media. Marvel and DC Comics had TV versions of their biggest properties. The Amazing Spider-Man, Incredible Hulk and Wonder Woman all ran on television as early as 1974 and beyond. Indeed CBS commissioned a version of Doctor Strange that aired as a two hour TV movie in 1978.

Alas, unlike its counterparts, Doctor Strange didn't get picked up as a series by CBS but every decade after was picked up again by new Marvel talent for storylines  in the comics. The idea for a movie bubbled up for many years but not till Marvel Entertainment under Disney's umbrella come up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in 2008 where movie after movie would be linked starting first with Iron Man.

Scott Derickson (The day the Earth Stood Still) was chosen in 2004 based on his ability to write and direct and a script was hammered out with Jon Spaihts (Prometheus) coming in as co-writer.  The shooting schedule was adjusted to accommodate Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game) who emerged as the top candidate to play Strange.

The origin of Doctor Strange is what is journey was from being a hot-shot neurosurgeon desperately seeking treatment for his badly injured hands hurt to a sorcerer who has to look beyond his own selfish needs to protect the world. During his search he comes upon a man Jonathan Pangborm (Benjamin Bratt) who appears full recovered from injuries far worse than his own. Cryptically, Pangborn sends Strange to seek out the the Kamar-Taj in Kathmandu where he encounters Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who leads him to the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton).

Strange is dismissive of the mysticism until the Ancient One shows him that a whole new world on multi-dimensions exists that is reachable with incantations and sorcery. After being temporarily cast out, he embarks as a student of the mystical ways where he learns that a former pupil Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) threatens the world with the dark arts learned from stolen pages of a spellbook.

If the story sounds super complicated, it is made less so by the humourous interaction of Strange and Wong (Benedict Wong) who plays the librarian in the story. The only character who feels wasted is Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer, a colleague and former lover.

The special effects and 3D are some of the best in the Marvel world and the action scenes some of the most intriguing. The Inception-like folding of the city of New York is jaw dropping. Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One is an excellent character although the re-imaging of her being of a Celtic background has been declared a "whitewash" by some critics who note the comic version was Asian.

The story doesn't break new ground for superhero film but it is a strong outing in escapist fun covering a sub-genre of the Marvel universe. Cumberbatch is engaging and watchable throughout and the action and special effects are impressive. A best support Oscar should go to Doctor Strange's very clever Cloak of Levitation.

As with all Marvel properties, there are mid and end credit scenes hinting at further adventures for Doctor Strange. Plus a final credit hinting at future enemies and their motivations. Don't leave your seat till it is all over! Of particular note is a magical self-filling beer mug that will make you laugh.