Friday, November 17, 2017

Movie Review: Wonder

The first thing to know when seeing the movie Wonder starring young breakout Canadian actor Jacob Tremblay is that the source material in a children's book by R. J. Palacio of the same name. The 2012 book itself is inspired by singer Natalie Merchant's song Wonder from 1995 about a child with a congenital disease. The song by the former 10,000 Maniac's lead singer will be featured in the movie.

Keeping all this mind, it is important to know that although the movie co-stars Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson, the story is about the child not the adults. They are support players in this story and there is an expectation of the audience that they will regress to when they were kids and follow along on that basis.

There have been other movies about facial disfigurement such as 1980's Elephant Man by David Lynch or 1985's Mask by Peter Bogdanovich. This is the first that covers the years of a child who despite modern medicine and multiple surgeries will still go through life wanting to cover his face so as to not have people see.

Jacob Tremblay (Room) plays Auggie who is about to enter middle school for the first time after being homeschooled by his mother Julia Roberts. At 10 years old, he has undergone quite a lot of surgery with his face being noticeable still for disfigurement. In public, he has taken to wearing a space helmet so as to cover himself and to stay in fantasy somewhat as a Star Wars loving kid.

Wonder is written and directed by Stephen Chbosky (Beauty and the Beast 2017) is a novelist himself, and he shares writing credit for the movie with Jack Thorne and Steve Conrad. An adaptation can be hard by Chbosky was chosen for his ability to capture a story so that it can be presented on screen. To that end he does the job well.

As Auggie arrives at school, he finds understanding staff in the form of teachers and principal but it is the kids that he has to find his way with. To that end, there is a bully Julian (Bryce Gheisar) and a would be friend Jack (Noah Jupe). The story of how Auggie overcomes the challenges in likely to bring a few hankies out of the audience.

There are other moments that offer some poignancy. Auggie's sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) has always had to step aside as her brother's 27 surgeries since birth have been an emotional focus of the family. However, she is about to enter high school and is heartbroken about a rift with her friend and trying to find her own way to shine. She does this by discovering a love for theatre and as a result re-claims her friendship with her friend and finds a love interest in a boy for the first time.

Julia Robert and Owen Wilson playing parents have truly supporting roles. However, they help form an understanding of the family that has survived on hard work and love. Still, the movie is not about them. Title cards separate the story into sections that are the point of view of Auggie, Via, Jack and Miranda. It is about the kids.

Wonder is at its best when exploring not just Auggie's worldview but his sister's and their friends. The message of kindness radiates through without it seeming to be insincere. This movie is a family movie and may be just the right tonic for superhero and animated movies because of the dose of reality it brings. By the way, has guest appearances by Chewbacca from Star Wars so be sure to look for them.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Mr. Mike's SteakhouseCasual Coming to Winnipeg

Many keep asking what the development around Kenaston and McGillivary is as they drive by. The answer is at least two restaurants, one with a drive-thru. No word yet on the drive-thru but the stand alone restaurant is Mr. Mike's SteakhouseCasual. They are shooting for an April opening but might sneak open a bit earlier.

The Burnaby, B.C.-based chain has been expanding rapidly in western Canada and has already opened up two locations in Manitoba in Winkler and Dauphin. The location in Winnipeg will be 5,200 square feet.

The restaurant started in Vancouver in 1960 and had gone through a few changes but it aims to occupy the market that is less expensive than what The Keg owns. They also serve burgers, pastas and salads but alas, no salad bar anymore.

The Linden Ridge Shopping Centre also has Lowe's Home Improvement store opening soon. It has taken a long time to get the mall nearly fully leased. It would seem that some time in 2018, the last areas will be completed for development since the land became available in the 1990s.

Mr. Mike's fills a void in the price friendly restaurant market and should do well in Winnipeg.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Big Business Pot Stores in Manitoba

Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries is a major corporation in Manitoba albeit a Crown Corporation. The government of Manitoba knows that the federal government has set a deadline for legalizing marijuana and they know they can't drag their feet forever. The Pallister Conservatives are caught in a quandary. They morally don't want to legalize but can't remain with a ban if the country won't prosecute usage. They didn't want to simply let Liquor and Lotteries take over the whole thing, another moral quandary, because it would against their business principles. Instead, we get this hybrid system where the Crown has the monopoly on distribution and instead ships out to big private stores.

The government doesn't really want to work with mom and pop businesses. The initial roll out for all this is for big corporations like Loblaw's, London Drugs, Shopper's and others to get the first crack at the licenses. Municipalities get to decide if they even want a store in their area. Presuming there are licenses left over then maybe a mom and pop store can apply. However, it is possible that one or a few companies could simply get licenses all over the province and then the government says that it is enough. Only problem is if the companies that gets the bulk of the stores aren't even based here then profits on sales are funneled out of province.

The minister in charge seems overwhelmed with his portfolio and wasn't even aware this was a problem. He was dismissive of one store wanting to be able to retail in Brandon saying it doesn't cover Manitoba. Why would a small business worry about the whole province when it wished to serve its local community?

To put this in perspective, it is like when they video rental business got started. Mom and pop stores abounded. They were in charge of sourcing their own material and setting up their own retail business. The movie industry was regulated via the censor and classification board of Manitoba but business was allowed to buy from who they wanted and sell where they wanted.

Now pot is different in that local communities can say no to a store plus zoning will keep them away from schools and only adults can enter them. However, after that, why does distribution have to be done by the Crown? Can't the province regulate distribution as well as retailing? Why own any part of it? The system in place now is like if the province was responsible for all the videos coming into the province and distributed them and they only let Blockbuster sell them. What? How is this good for small business?

 I sympathize with small business people on this one. They have been at the forefront of moving this along and now big corporation are moving in and saying only they can do this.

The NDP is not much help in this. Their solution is distribution and retail should all be government and union controlled. No business at all, please. Were they in government they'd probably nationalize and unionize production as well.

The Conservative complain even today that federal Liberals are anti-small business. Well, the feds left the pot in their corner and what do they do? They went big corporation and big government on it.

To do this right, the government should simply allow wholesalers and retailers know they will be regulated, taxed and expected to obey provincial and municipal laws on age, zoning, security and separation of a store from food, liquor and cigarette retailing. There should be no restriction on number of licenses. Let the retailers sort it out.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Encore+ Canadian YouTube Channel 2017

It really hasn't gotten the big splash it deserves but this week Encore+ has begun as a YouTube channel devoted to Canadian content. It is digitally re-mastered TV and film production covering kids, drama, comedy and documentaries produced by and for the Canadian market.

Some of these programs are still seen on cable in Canada, some on pay services such as Netflix or CraveTV. This will be the first time they are for free and in support of the people who created these programs. The channel is a creation of the Canadian Media Fund and supported by Google Canada, Bell Media, Telefilm Canada, Deluxe Canada and Broadband TV (BBTV).

This is an experiment to see if catalogue material from the vaults of Canada can find new audiences or bring back old audiences and be monetized to benefit the creators of the material.

In the next few years, it will harder to find free or less expensive material to view as Netflix, Disney and others create their own paywall media and increase the price to see it. YouTube itself is increasing how it monetizes itself and original material can make contributors rich with advertising and sponsorship.

There is a hunger out there for quality material from years past. In fact, the hunger is so great that people will seek it out even if it is of low video and sound quality just because it isn't available except on unauthorized downloads or streaming.

Free high quality material that is binge worthy and might even be family approved that actually might help pay the creators should and ought to be a no brainer.

Ultimately, people will make their choice on what is uploaded and so far there is 300 videos up covering various TV shows and movies.

Here is what is up so far.

Encore+

Due South
Mr. Dressup
Da Vinci's Inquest
The Littlest Hobo
Are You Afraid of the Dark
Little Mosque on the Prairie

There is also French material as well going up such as Degrassi Junior High in French and Due South in French.

Many TV movies and films are also going up.

Safe to say this changes many things for Canadian catalogue content. There is no telling how much library material could be up for free on YouTube as a result of this. So little media splash for it as well. I suspect most people will discover the channel purely by accident.

Best Canadian entertainment story for a long time. Everyone should push for their favourite old show to be uploaded here in re-mastered format.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Joy Coffee Bar Coming to Charleswood

3311 Roblin Boulevard on the north side of the street has had a few different businesses in it from imported foods to book store. Now it is getting a coffee shop. Joy Coffee Bar is set to open soon. The business has been running as a mobile service but now will have a bricks and mortar location.

A Starbucks is just down the street as well as a few restaurants on the south side but in recent years there has been nothing on the north side of the old Charleswood downtown.

There isn't a lot of foot traffic in Charleswood in that people roam the streets shopping. Most retailers and businesses are destination businesses in that people drive to them for the purpose of patronizing them.

There has been a revival of coffee house culture in Winnipeg as bar scenes have dried up. For people who just want to meet up and enjoy the company of others without alcohol, there were restaurants but not so many coffee places.

It remains to be seen if the mobile business will continue but the coffee bar itself looks to open soon. It is probably too late to get a tiny patio up but that might be fun in the new year too.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Movie Reviews: Bad Moms Christmas

The first Bad Mom's movie in 2016 was a silly romp of outrageous humour and vulgarity. It was also a huge hit thereby opening the door for a sequel. The film has Mila Kunis, Kristin Bell, Kathryn Hahn as Amy, Kiki and Carla hosting their moms at Christmas. The moms played by Christine Baranski, Cheryl Hines and Susan Sarandon drive the girls to distraction as they once again try to achieve the impossible of being supermoms over the holiday season.

The underlying sweetness of Bad Moms and the over the top belly laughs of antics mixed in with a little bit of wish fulfillment and romance is what drives the story. Scott Moore and Jon Lucas (The Hangover) return as co-writers and directors of the film.

Despite average reviews for the original movie and a third place finish for the opening weekend, Bad Moms built in the days after toe become a box office hit and a fan favourite. Somehow the movie struck a tone for women feeling stressed, alone and under pressure trying to fulfill roles in their busy lives. The idea of friendship and a key group of people being in it with you at the same time was a winning formula. The excesses, profanity and general silliness was beloved because it encompassed a longing in the audience for a closeness where you can drop the veil with your buddies and be yourself.

Christmas and one's own mom visiting is definitely ripe material for comedy. Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathrn Hahn continue to have very good chemistry and their antics elicited raucous laughter in the theatre. The humour of Christine Baranski, Cheryl Hines and Susan Sarandon is more one note with Baranski having the best role of the three. Some sections of the movie fall flat such as the carrolling scene until it gets a lift from a cameo by Christina Applegate reprising her role from the last movie.

The danger some Hollywood movie do is repeat the same joke in a recurring theme. For example, the ongoing joke that Christine Baranski's character mistakes Jess (Jay Hernandez) as the help. The joke works best when there is a twist on it. For example, Kathryn Hahn's ongoing joke about waxing women's nether parts gets a twist when a male stripper Ty (Justin Hartley) comes in to the salon for a wax. This is when the movie is at its most outrageous funny and at the same time sweetest.

It is hard to compete with the winning formula of the first Bad Moms but it will probably be a welcome laugh for the audience to revisit favourite characters again in a holiday movie. Without a doubt, expect to see a third outing from the Bad Moms.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Fort La Reine Ghost Walk 2017

Another year has passed for Fort la Reine's annual Ghost Walk in Portage la Prairie. It occurred over the past two Saturdays between 6 and 10 PM and entertained families with spooky but not overly terrifying attractions. It was an all ages event for Halloween and a perfect event for little kids and families in general.

Many of the 28 buildings comprising the heritage village just off the Trans Canada Highway were decorated with Halloween themes and lit up. Executive Director Tracey Turner was also able to show off the main gallery and offices which were renovated to provide handicapped accessible doors, washrooms and hall for Canada 150 celebrations.

Staff, volunteers and performers provided entertainment over the sprawling complex and a vendors village occupied the back end of the of the village. Lighting was provided by Jim Dobbin and his team over and Q One Technologies.

This was the first time the event spanned two Saturdays. With so few Halloween events that are family friendly, expect this one to grow each year and attract people from Winnipeg to Brandon to come see Portage la Prairie.























Thursday, October 26, 2017

Central Canada Comic Con 2017

C4 is back for the Halloween weekend running this Friday through till Sunday. The success of the con has reached a point where nearly 70,000 people will attend often in costume over the three day run. The expanded RBC Winnipeg Convention Centre has allowed Manitoba's biggest convention to really spread out and cover much of the third floor and a large part of the second floor. There is probably something for everyone at C4 from guests from TV, film, comic artists, wrestling stars, cosplay, gaming on board and networks.

The con is organized along alleys with costume artists in one area, celebrities in another and vendors in in several areas, etc. Ken Shamrock of UFC fame is a guest this year which will appeal to those who love mixed martial arts. John Rhys Davies from Lord of the Rings/Indiana Jones is attending as well as Denise Crosby Star Trek/Walking Dead. In recent years the guest area has been reduced somewhat. The availability and cost is a huge issue despite Winnipeg's large attendance. Moreover, the timing of Winnipeg's convention in prime time in the filming season of many actors. They are sometimes not available at all.

The things that has exploded at C4 is the gaming. BASELAN, Fusion4 and Twin Eagles have three day gaming events separate from the con but part of the con experience. Separate tickets are required for these events which have grown to become the biggest in western Canada.

The most exciting thing for most people in attendance is people watching. There are some great costumes that people make time and effort to wear at C4. Seeing some of your favourite comic artists, celebrities and shopping around on the Halloween weekend has become quite the tradition.

I have suggested areas where C4 excels in and where it could use help. Think no one would disagree that crowd management especially on Saturdays could be better. The first floor meeting rooms represent more opportunities in the future for programming for artists and for activities. Calgary's Comic Con has a lot of free arcade stuff that would be awesome. They also have more celebrity guests. The Calgary con has only 20,000 more people but also runs an extra day. Of course, Calgary would probably die for how much network gaming takes place in Winnipeg.

C4 in Winnipeg will continue to evolve but for now it is the best chance to dress up and celebrate comics and pop culture and wrestling. And thankfully, it looks like the weather will improve just in time for the fun. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Winnipeg Can't Do

List of things Winnipeg Can't Do.

Please feel free to add any.

Can't open Portage and Main because it will slow traffic

Can't make buses safe

Can't drive without hitting pedestrians

Can't make proper bike lanes

Can't synchronize lights properly

Can't stop firefighters and paramedics from hating one another

Can't build big city projects without being way over budget and an RCMP investigation

Can't put WIFI on buses

Can't stop or even investigate bike theft

Can't stop using drugs

Can't stop people from disappearing

Can't stop geese from ordering us around

Can't get round the week construction or any that falls outside of 9 to 5 Monday to Friday

Can't stop walk on motions at city council meetings

Can't get city managers to tell council what they're doing

Can't stop police shifters

Can't stop trees from dying

Can't prune trees

Can't re-plant trees

Can't contract out garbage properly

Can't close small schools

Can't put indigenous casino in city

Can't develop Kapyong Barracks

Can't widen Kenaston

Can't re-route trains to airport area

Can't get Uber

Can't get taxi numbers up

Can't get taxi drivers who know the city

Can't get proper traffic circles

Can't get a waterpark

Can't get quiet cargo jets at night

Can't rely on police to give timely Breathalyzer to other police

Can't get firefighters to tell city hall that prime minister is visiting

Can't get any more malathion

Can't get clear water

Can't change one way streets back to two way

Can't get emergency care south of the Assiniboine

Can't do anything on old fort site except build a parking lot

Can't do diagonal parking

Can't get meters to work in the cold

Can't learn know your snow zone

Can't stop construction at Sherbrook and Portage taking place for 10 summers in a row

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Upper Crust Bakery Charleswood Closed

In 2012, the Upper Crust Bakery took over Oma's Bakery at 3416 Roblin Boulevard. Before that it was Roblin Bakery and Pastry. This week the closed sign is up and the windows have papered over. The Upper Crust had been owned by the Pesticelli family who also owned the original Upper Crust in Selkirk, Manitoba. Pretty much every day people driving down Roblin would see people in the bakery making purchases. It seemed the last remnants of a downtown Charleswood that used to have bank branches, a meat shop and a bakery would end forever.

Fear not. A sign has gone up and a website declares that S Square P√Ętisserie will be opening in that location soon. They call themselves A Little Taste of Paris in Winnipeg.

Sophon Chhin is the owner and head pastry chef at S Squared P√Ętisserie and had been looking for a location for sometime. His specialty is desserts and in particularly Macrons. The ship is still being worked on so Charleswood will have to wait and see what emerges in the days ahead.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Tux and Good Earth Coffeehouse Now Open

The construction around Seasons of Tuxedo continues a high pace. In the last week or so, the Hilton Garden Inn's beer vendour has opened up. Appropriately, it is called The Tux Beer Market. The hotel has been open for a while too and already booking rooms, banquets and the like.

Given the size of southwest Winnipeg, it is important to note that a new hotel has not opened anywhere in forty plus years. Nothing between the Perimeter, Pembina Highway and Portage Avenue. No hotels and in recent years...no beer vendours aside from limited selection and not cold...liquor marts.

If a relative or business traveller had cause to be in this part of the city (which is bigger than Grand Forks and Fargo combined) they had no hotel except outside the area. Not exactly a good situation. As for a cold beer store...well there are dry communities with better cold beer availability.

The large residential build up along Sterling Lyon is probably going to discover the beer store first but expect more people zipping down Kenaston south to veer in to get supplies for the weekend.

Also just opened is the Good Earth Coffeehouse beside the IHOP. The Calgary-based restaurant group has been operating since 1991 and is noted for wraps, sandwiches, soups and of course, coffee.

Several more restaurants are coming including a McDonald's in the next months.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Sears Looks to Close Remaining Stores

Sears St. Vital
And then there were none.

Coming on the heels that Polo Park Sears will close is the news that St. Vital Sears and Kildonan Sears are also closing. The three Sears closing with mean the loss of over 350 jobs in Winnipeg and leave large spaces to be filled in the top malls in the province.

Garden City Sears Outlet recently closed with the loss of 81 jobs. More than a year ago Sears closed closed their Home Store on St. James. The Brandon Hometown store around the same time. Liquidation will begin and end before the end of the year.

In 2018, the entire Sears company will cease to exist. The total loss of stores in Canada will cost 15,000 people their jobs will leave massive holes in malls that are still trying to fill space after Target closed. Across Canada Sears as of this week the company has 74 department stores, 8 Sears Home Stores and 49 Sears Hometown stores.

When Sears opened as Simpsons Sears at Polo Park, it once had 600 employees. It was the anchor of the mall and at 260,000 square feet it has a huge footprint. St. Vital Sears is 132,000 square feet and Kildonan Place Sears is 126,000 square feet. The recently closed Garden City Sears Outlet store was 92,000 square feet.

It would appear one company would like to take 50,000 square feet of space of the Garden City Sears location. It is not certain what that company is but the rumours have been that a grocery has been looking around.

Garden City has been in need of a freshening up for sometime and Sears was holding it back. The Northgate Mall nearby had seriously upped its game with Save on Foods and massive work has transformed the mall. In the next year Garden City will probably have the makeover it has needed for a very long time..

When Zellers closed in Polo Park after Target came to Canada, the mall embarked on re-purposing the space to multiple store that had been waiting a long time to get in the mall. The end result was a $49 million horeshoe extension and 22 new stores including a return of the Disney store.

The problem with Sears Polo Park is that is a few floors and one heckuva a lot more space. Rumour has it that Nordstrom's and Simon's have been looking at the space in the event that Sears closed. The owner of the mall will have to decide how they want to configure the mall for maximum effect. It seems impossible that the cost to do this will around the same as the Zellers conversion. Expect a bold and costly change and some exciting announcements.

Kildonan Place just finished re-purposing the closed Target space. They now have an H&M, Home Sense and Marshals store in the old space. Managers of the mall must be thinking: Not again. It is possible that the mall will simply convert the space again and find smaller retailers to come to the mall. However, maybe there is a larger store interested in part of the space.

Of all the malls, it may be that St. Vital is in the best position to use Sears space quickly. The mall went through an extensive re-freshening last year and save for a few spaces here and there, is ripe for certain retailers to move in. Simply put, there is no room in the region for anyone to build in the area. There is no telling what will go in the space but expect a competition from retailers to grocers to movie theatre companies to gyms to put proposals in. One retailer want to use the lease 25,000 square feet of the second floor at the mall. It remains to be seen if they have the inside track.

All in all Manitoba should fare better than other provinces looking to fill space of old Sears. Many small towns still are struggling from closed Zellers and Targets. The only spot in Winnipeg with a still vacant Target is Polo Park but it isn't awaiting a buyer. The mall already owns the spot. However, with the fate of Sears in the mall. That is what the top retailers are looking at. Once that has been decided, the attractiveness of the old Target Polo Park location only grows.

It is tragic that the loss of Sears in Winnipeg will put so many out of work. It has been a while since many people have stepped into a Sears. Bad management killed the company. This province will overcome the loss. It will hurt many others far longer.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

How to Act During an Attack

It happened Edmonton, it can happen anywhere. It happened in Ottawa. It can happen anywhere.

I'm no security expert and not a member of law enforcement but I do take some responsibility for my own well being. It doesn't have to be unnatural either. Parents watch over children, women assess their safety all the time,  we all lock our doors in houses and cars. It only takes one time such as losing a child in the store for a time, feeling menaced walking somewhere or having something stolen from you from an unlocked property to make one change their behaviour.

I will cross the street every time when someone I don't know approaches during certain hours. Why? Because I've been attacked. My experience tells me that if I don't know the person, it could be dangerous. I don't base it on gender, race or possible religion. Often in Winnipeg on a dark street and in the cold you don't know anything discernible about who approaches. I assess the situation, cross and give myself options.

Situation awareness.

I don't want to be paranoid but good situational awareness becomes a habit. I lock my car and house, know where my family is to get in touch, let people know where I am, never assume nothing can happen and when I go somewhere, I know how I'm getting out.

When I left for the Soviet Union when the Cold War was heating up, my parents told me if something went wrong, they'd meet me in Finland and to cross the border somehow.  My mother was joking but also she was not. As it turned out, the Soviet hosts kept me longer than anticipated and I have no easy way to let them know. In the end, it was the Moscow CBC correspondent who helped get word to my family.

People get scared. It doesn't matter if it is a fire or if they hear an explosion. It is okay to be frightened but most people who hear a fire alarm don't hide under the bed. It is deeply ingrained in us to look for the exit. Most places now before a meeting advise people just as if they are in an airplane where the exits are. We often ignore the repeated warning but it seems many of us have learned it by rote. It is always amazing how many people file out safely and how many lives are saved as a result.

Security has been enhanced at many events people go to. It doesn't matter if it is the Ex or a Jets game. Security will go through bags and use a wand or even pat you down. Today, the IGF field where the Blue Bomber play was putting up cement barricades to block truck attacks. Plans still remain to put bollards around the police headquarters to do the same thing. However, as has recently been shown, the vulnerabilities can be just outside the security perimeter. You cannot rely on help being readily available or timely.

We already take precautions now when we go out. We try not be alone or if we have to be, walk in a lit area and try to be aware of the situation around us. We let people know where we are, when we are expected home and who we are with. We need to be more vigilant about it.

Winnipeg, despite its reputation, is generally safe for many people. Most of the violence in this city is drug or alcohol related, happens between people who usually know each other, is often associated with criminal enterprise, rarely related to politics or religion. It often has a race component but not specifically a race crime although there is likely debate on that. Residents of the city have not experienced an attack that seems to happen all to regularly elsewhere.

We can't be smug about it though. Despite a diverse and generally welcoming population today, there have been people here on watch lists and a former resident of Charleswood died in Ontario in a failed attempt at terrorism. Other residents have disappeared and are suspected of joining overseas organizations fighting possibly in Africa. We just don't know.

The only thing we can do as residents and when we travel is have a plan. Don't be paralyzed, don't be indecisive, assess risk and move. If someone you know is hurt, move them or drag them to safety. Two people were shot while doing CPR in Las Vegas. Like being on water, move a person to where revival techniques are safer for both.

Canadians are all over the world. It is probably best to remember there is not an invisible shield around you. Be careful and not a naif ready to get in trouble. Enjoy yourself wherever you are but no what your situation is to avoid robbery, terrorism and violence. When in doubt... move. Get out of the danger area. Most times nothing will ever happen. However, just as in a fire or if your plane goes down in the Hudson, be ready and act. Shock is something you can let happen after you are safe.

Everyone be careful out there and take care of one another.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Sears Polo Park Closing

Simpsons-Sears in the 1970s
The writing has been on the wall for some time. Sears in Canada has been suffering at the hands of the parent in the U.S. for years now. Every chance to modernize the department store was nixed by head office in the U.S. with ever growing demands to send cash south to bail out Sears/Kmart. Shares of the parent company dropped from 73% in 2006 to 10% today. All attempt to stem the downturn in Sears Canada was met with selfish resistance and the money still flowed south.

Sears joined with Kmart in the U.S. but the brand was old and tired and all investors wanted out of the company was the real estate holdings and credit business. The market was changing to more online sales but any re-investment in the company to other areas was quashed.

In Canada stores closed or leases sold back to the malls. The money was once again sent south rather to get Sears Canada better equipped for the new retailing. In Winnipeg and Brandon  came the closures of Sears Hometown stores and Sears Home stores and then Sears Outlet store at Garden City.

Sears in 2017 was left with three stores at Polo Park, St. Vital and Kildonan. The big whale and once one of the most profitable stores in the country for the department store was the 270,000 square foot Polo Park store. It was the original anchor in the mall and a major funder that got the place built in 1959.

Polo Park has expanded many times since the 1959 opening and Sears has been a major anchor and profitable for decades there. In 1999, Sears operated the old Eaton's as owner for a time making it a double anchor. That Eaton's eventually failed along with the other stores across Canada and HBC became the anchor on the north side.

For a few years now the rumour has been that Sears was going to sell the lease off or go under nationally. Several retailers such as Nordstrom and Simons have sniffed around waiting to see what would happen. It is one of the reasons why new development has not popped up immediately in the recently built Target building north of the mall. Why would a big retailer want to go in there when the 12th largest mall in Canada awaits your arrival?

The last large space to come available Polo Park came as the result of Zellers closure. Rather than looking for a one or two big retailers to take over the spot, the mall reconfigured it into a horseshoe- corridor that added 22 stores including a Disney store.

The Sears location is so enormous covering three times the size. It seems unlikely but not impossible the mall would be convert it to 40 to 60 new stores. Moreover, it is doubtful that Cadillac Fairview wants to leave the space empty for too long into 2018. The competition from Seasons of Tuxedo is not to be taken lightly.

Sears began in 1953 as a collaboration between Simpsons in Canada and Sears, Roebuck. The original sign on Polo Park of the store said Simpsons-Sears for years and was shopped at by many. It was the first credit card many young people ever got. The demise of the store in Canada can be laid at a changing market but hastened by the worst example of branch plant economy management. Selfish, stupid and ultimately self-defeating U.S. demands busted Sears in Canada. In the end it didn't help Sears in the States either.

There will be 159 people who lose their jobs at Sears in Polo Park. Pensions and benefits have been torpedoed as well as vulture strip off the carcass. Pretty shabby treatment from a once great icon of retailing.

Malls are changing for sure in the face of the new economy but Polo Park is probably going to do just fine re-inventing itself. After all, it once was a horse racetrack. They have changed before.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Autumnbee's Pizza Closed

After so many years of construction at Grant Park, so many changes, it is not surprising that some businesses inside were just not able to survive. Autumnbee's Pizza in the former Pizza Place location just down from the Landmark Theatre has closed. It might have been inevitable that this would have been the fate. Almost all full service restaurants in malls that don't have their own entrances to the outside are gone now.

It probably was particularly cruel to see Fionn Macool's going up in the parking lot, yes another casual dining competitor so close.

It used to be that the old Pizza Place was one of the few places in the dense neighbourhood where you could get a bite before a movie or the Grant Park arena or in the restaurant desert that was River Heights.

For the first time in a very long while it appears that Grant Park has achieved a final lay-out that should be sustained for a number of years. Winners, Canadian Tire and Goodlife are all in place and should be there for some time to come.

Neighbourhood changes south of the mall are also likely to bring more people to the area and the mall is well positioned now with a complete fresh look.

It is sad to see the longtime pizza joint close down but is just a matter of time that we see the movie theatre become licensed and begin serving more diverse food samplings. They may have closed just in time. It remains to be seen in another restaurant takes over the site or whether it will go retail.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Staples St. James Moves to former Sears Home Store

The recent closure of Sears Home store at St. James and Ellice triggered almost immediate renovation. At the start, it looked like the property would be sub-divided as the old Sears location was fairy sizeable since it sold appliances. In August the first of the two places put up their signage and it is open now. Spirit, the seasonal Halloween store will be open through till October selling costumes and the like. Obviously, a temporary store and it might be a good candidate for the always end of season Bomber store as well.

The big news is that other spot is leased to a more prized catch. Staples has moved from their St. James Square location down the street to1450 Ellice, Sears Home's old location. The store has already had a soft opening and the official opening this weekend.

Staples in St. James has always been a fairly busy store and the new location will bring more parking and situate them on a busier corner. The old location has papered over windows. I suspect it won't remain empty for long.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Winnipeg Goldeyes Champions Again!

All season long the Winnipeg Goldeyes have been playing well, putting up wins, being entertaining as can be and affirming they are the best of the best in American Association ball. Frequently this year they have had "wow" moments in Shaw Park and throughout the league. Ultimately, the great play led to another play-off run where the defending 2016 Goldeyes champions would once again play their rivals the Wichita Wingnuts.

Goldeyes have become comeback specialists in play-off baseball. Game 4 in the series was a marathon 17 innings assisted by luck from an umpire's call and amazing pitching. Game 5 was delayed a day for weather and probably to rest two extremely weary teams. The result was of the one day wait was a 6,300 crowd with standing room only. This was a huge improvement over the lesser crowd on Monday's game 4.

In the game 5 final, the Goldeyes bats came alive and the big hitters sent the score into the stratosphere. Crowd favourite Reggie Abercrombie played a very big game. Edwin Karl as pitcher kept Wichita off the scoreboards. Ultimately the score would end 18-2 and the Goldeyes would be able to rush into the field in front of a hometown crowd claiming victory. It was a first in 18 years at their downtown location.

Back to wins are never easy and Winnipeg Goldeyes found new ways to stay alive several times over the course of the season. It takes a lot to have a winning formula, It is built with coaching and management, great players, fans, supporters and community and business support. Congratulations to the champions of the the 2017 American Association of baseball!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Winnipeg Goldeyes to Play Championship Game

It has come down to Game 5 in the championship of the American Association of baseball. The Winnipeg Goldeyes, defending champions from last year, played Monday night against the Wichita Wingnuts down 2-1 in the best of five series and in a must win situation. The Fish didn't disappoint. It was the bottom of the 9th, two out and Casey Turgeon up to the plate with Wes Darvill at second base hoping to be the tying run in a 3-2 game,

The pitch came and Turgeon swung and it appeared to a ground out. The Wingnuts came out on the field jumping up and down thinking they had won the game. It was not to be. The umpire had called balk and the last pitch didn't count and a clearly dejected Wingnuts had to head back on the field. With no time to even think about it, the inning continued and this time, Turgeon blasted it and brought Darvill in for a run tying the game.

The incredibly exciting Goldeyes had done it again. They had taken the game to extra innings. What happened after that was history making baseball. Just as the Winnipeg Jets game ended in overtime shoot out down the street and people were headed home, the Goldeyes were battling it out with the Wingnuts in front of 3.500 fans for three more hours!

It was around midnight that social media picked up the fact that game was still on and people started to watch on streaming video from the league's website. The excitement grew as inning after inning went by and clock ticked close to 1 AM. It was then that Goldeyes finally got a walk that advanced them to home plate and they took the game.

Tuesdays thundershowers have postponed the final to Wednesday, September 20 at 6 PM. The forecast is for sunny and 19 C.

The Goldeyes have been playing inspired ball all season and never say never. It has been a wonderful season and it comes down to game 5. Go Fish go!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Wholesale Sports to Close Winnipeg St. James

After 30 years in business in western Canada, Wholesale Sports is closing all 12 stores in four provinces including Winnipeg's St. James location. The Calgary-based sport, hunting and fishing store says 545 workers will lose their jobs. It is a tough business and only recently Cabela's was swallowed up by Bass Pro Shops.

The Winnipeg location down the street has a property developer in Winnipeg who was planning some enhancements to the site but now they will have a major vacancy with the closure. Still, now with St. James Street roadwork nearing an end, the site could prove lucrative for another business.

Wholesale Sports has been around since the 1970s but the Winnipeg location is a more recent arrival. Online sales from companies like Amazon continue to change the market for bricks and mortar stores. Some stores have thrived while others have shown significant weakness in the last years. Department stores and big box stores have proved to be vulnerable.

It is sad to see a Canadian retailer fail and lose jobs. Winnipeggers have till December to shop as the store liquidates stock.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Many Fest 2017

Many Fest comes quickly after this long weekend but it a good chance to spend some time outdoors and attend one of the many events downtown along Broadway between September 8 and 10.

This year's outdoor movie on Sunday at 8 will be Sing, the animated musical that broke office records in 2016. It is sure to be a favourite of families. People should bring chairs and blankets.

Surrounding the movie will be the food trucks for Food Trucks Wars. There will be something tasty for everyone.

This year will have to two stages set for music running continuously from Friday till Sunday. Check programming to see when you favourite act is performing.

Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries will be setting up the Farmery Estate Brewery Wine & Beer Garden. Farmery will have their full selection available for outdoor festivities.

For the runners is the 10 and 10 run. It is kind if misnomer because there is also a 30 km race in addition to the 10 kms and 10 miller and the shorty of 5 kms.

In addition to the runners, expect lots of cyclists for Cyclovia who will be doing multiple rides downtown along Broadway and drives to and from the site. There are plenty of kidzone activities throughout the festival area

The Farmer's and Artisan market runs both Saturday and Sunday.

Many Fest encompasses a lot and is the perfect city event just as everyone is getting back to fall schedules but when warms days and pleasant evenings are still rule.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Whitey's Closes in Grand Forks

In 1925 Edwin "Whitey" Larsen started Whitey's started a bar. Problem was it was Prohibition and illegal. This did not stop him so under authorities noses in East Grand Forks, Minnesota and using smuggled in alcohol from Canada, he operated his art deco styled dining, drinking and gambling den. It is hard to say when they first Manitobans entered the bar. It is quite possibly the suppliers such as the Bronfman family from Brandon and later Winnipeg who plied whiskey south of the border.

Grand Fork was the good sister and East Grand Forks was the naughty sister across the river. In the 1930s, a stainless steel horseshoe bar was built and it remains in the bar today and will beyond the closure. It has gone through a fire, flood and a relocation farther up the street over the years on Demers.

The two Grand Forks are separated by a bridge that crosses the Red River. Even after Prohibition ended, North Dakota to the west was more proper with drinking age of 21 and Sunday closures and no lotteries. Minnesota was 19, open Sundays and had lotteries. Things have evened out. The drinking age everywhere is 21, both are open Sunday and lotteries are available everywhere.

In 2011, Whitey's had a near death experience when business dried up. Despite having Cabela's across the street, foot traffic had collapsed and the long recession hastened a sale. From that near closure, it became a steakhouse and seafood place. However, for Grand Forks people who lived increasingly in the suburbs, the destination was a bit far for fare they could find at Columbia Mall environs.

A week ago, the bar closed and patrons came to say goodbye. It will continue as a restaurant owned by a Fargo-based restaurant group. Sickies Garage Burgers and Brews intends to occupy the space. They presently have a stripped down version of the restaurant on South Columbia nearer to the University of North Dakota than to Columbia Mall. It seems uncertain whether the old Sickie's will continue or not. Its present location has seen an Arby's, Padron Chile and Sweet Burrito in short order.

The old horseshoe bar is said to be a centerpiece to Sickie's new location. The food served is 50 burger and 50 beers. That is presumably one at a time. Good old fashioned burgers have made a comeback.

Winnipeggers continue to shop in Grand Forks although most might be surprised to find this and other places closed. This past year Columbia Mall saw Macy's, Zales and Yankee Candle store close among others. Nearly 1/5 of the mall and 12 stores have shut down as of the beginning of June. The mall still draws 25% Canadians but 11 new strip malls have gone up in Grand Forks which also affects traffic patterns.

People still go out for dinner and drinks so it remains to be seen whether Whitey's transformed into Sickie's will work. As mentioned it survived Prohibition, burning down in the 1940s, flooding in 1997 and near death experiences till now. Will anyone from Canada even recognize Grand Fork this fall?