Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Rec Room Coming to Seasons of Tuxedo

Well, the official announcement has come from Cineplex's Rec Room which has actively seeking a location in Winnipeg for some time. For a while, it looked like they might moving into the Polo Park Target location across from the ScotiaBank Theatre site. However, the complication of the site design made it less than ideal. The other rumour was St. Vital Centre in perhaps the old Sears location but the site was too large and had further complication of two floors and questionable parking.

Ideally, the Rec Room wanted a building tailor made for them covering one floor at about 40,000 square feet. In a perfect world it would be very close to a Cineplex movie theatre. Since Polo Park and St. Vital Centre did not work out the next best choice was a mall and in Winnipeg the newest mall is still actively building. The VIP Odeon and ScotiaBank Theatre are somewhere in the middle along a straight like down Kenaston for those seeking pre and post movie entertainment.

There are a number spots listed on Seasons of Tuxedo's map. The one they seem to be referring to is immediately across from Outlet Collections Mall across Sterling Lyon. Work is to begin soon but the opening will wait to 2019 as million and millions goes into these gaming centers.

The Rec Room will feature restaurants, performance spaces, 110 amusement games, axe throwing, luxury bowling and virtual reality games. At present there are four locations of Rec Rooms across Canada with an expectation of maybe 12-15 nation-wide.

Winnipeg has had gaming centers before but nothing of this scale has ever been attempted. It remains to be seen whether the Rec Room will successful with young adults or not but the investment seems to suggest that Cineplex believes they have a winner.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Toys R Us to Carry on in Canada?

For some time now, Toys R Us has been struggling in the United States. Speculation has been rampant how Canada and U.K operations would fare if the parent went under. Now it is evident that things are afoot.

The 75 Toys R Us in the U.K are biting the dust. Barring a last minute reprieve, they are shutting the doors once they liquidate all their stock. The U.S. operations are indicating they will be shutting down almost everything except for what a potential buyer is willing to keep. In all 800 stores will closed and 200 may be saved only if, and this is the surprising part, if Canada's profitable 75 stores stay open and the head office moves to Canada.

The 82 Canadian stores of Toys R Us are apparently well managed and the jewel of the crown in the company.  The fact that they are thinking that Canada will help save 200 stores in the U.S. is a far cry from when Linens and Things went under and the profitable Canadian operation was liquidated with no thought to preserving it.

In Winnipeg Toys R Us has three locations and their operations continue even though Canada is in creditor protection. A number of companies appear to in the running to buy Canada stores and select locations in the U.S. Make no mistake this will be a devastating loss of about 30,000 workers in the U.S. and a few thousand more in the U.K.

For the sake of the Canadian operations and the possibility of landing the head office of the company entirely, I hope a deal can be made. Some people say that the brick and mortar world of retail is completely gone but there is still evidence that some strong retailers can make it work, especially ones that add pick up and delivery to their service.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Movie Review: Red Sparrow

Red Sparrow was originally a spy novel from former CIA agent Jason Matthews about the "sparrow" program that first started in the Cold War. The book tells the story of a young woman coerced into the program in the new Russia by her uncle in state security. She is assigned a CIA agent and told to find a way into his life so that he reveals who the mole is within the Russian government.

The book written in 2013 was well reviewed and unlike a James Bond novel was fairly accurate about how clandestine operatives did their jobs. Matthews also wrote far more graphic sex scenes found in the genre and for additional fare ended each chapter with a recipe. The young woman who was the sparrow also possessed the ability to discern people's emotions through synesthesia. This manifested itself in her seeing colours that revealed someone's state of mind.

Even before the book was published, Hollywood swept in a paid seven figures for it and was commissioned to write a trilogy. The studios got in a bidding war and 20th Century Fox picked up the rights and shopped it around directors till Francis Lawrence came aboard. He then went to frequent partner in his Hunger Games movies Jennifer Lawrence (no relation to the director) and she signed on to portray the sparrow Dominika Ergerova.

In the spy movie genre, women seem to fall into two categories...Bond Women and Bond Imitators. Salt, Atomic Blonde and Black Widow are all versions of Bond where the woman is the action hero. It is only the rare movie that is done as a procedural or biographical movie such a Fair Game in 2010 which starred Naomi Watts.

John Le Carre has been the master of the procedural spy novel and his books have made for captivating TV and movie productions. They, however, have always had a male protagonist and while they've had some interesting female roles, they have not been the lead. Part of this possibly stems from the fact that in most countries, women historically were not allowed into combat. Subsequently, aside from a few exceptions women who acted as spies were overlooked or forbidden under official secrets acts to reveal their involvement. There are few excellent female spy writers out but the audience for their work largely appears to be men.

Jennifer Lawrence is a bona fide movie star. She has been part of big franchises such as X-Men and Hunger Games and she has headlined in films such as Joy and mother! Increasingly, she has taken roles on her terms, embraced risk while empowering her character and herself as an actress. As a result, her work and her choices have had her nominated four time for an Oscar. She won best actress for Silver Linings Playbook in 2013.

The screenplay for Red Sparrow was written by Justin Haythe. Some of the minutiae of spywork was left off for the sake of the story as well as Dominika Egerova's abilities in seeing people intention read in visualized colour.  Perhaps both of those book related items would be better explored in a long form series rather than a film. At 140 minutes though, it is a long movie with lots of dialogue with a focus on thrills rather than action.

The film starts with two unrelated scenes. The first is introducing Dominika Ergerova as a prima ballerina in the Bolshoi Ballet injured in a seemingly tragic accident that ends her career. Even then we see hints of how she is pawed by Russian men who would go further if they could. Lawrence's frozen smile as her bare back is touched reveals all.

Meanwhile in Gorky Park a CIA agent by the name of Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) is meeting with a high level Russian mole code named Marble when they are interrupted by police from the vice squad. Nash protects his informant but blows his cover and in one of only a few actions scenes has to hightail it back to the U.S. embassy.

Dominika's uncle Ivan played in a deliciously close resemblance to Vladimir Putin by Matthias Schoenaerts manipulates his niece by revealing intelligence showing her dance partner deliberately crippled her to make room for another dancer and lover. The result of this is that Dominika delivers an epic beating in the showers with her cane before escaping unnoticed. This leaves her and her sick mother (Joely Richardson) even more vulnerable and in desperation, she goes back to uncle for help.

It is at this point, we see how Ivan works in state security. He uses men and women to get close to targets to either extract information or to kill them. He uses Dominika in this case because the target already knows her and of her career ending injury. What happens behind closed doors is that she end up being raped and her attacker is killed by Ivan's assassin. As witness to this her own life is forfeit if she does not agree to work for state security as a SVR agent. She is is sent to State School Four to learn how to be a sparrow. Dominika later describes it as "whore school."

To the movie audience the violence, gore, sexuality and nudity will be too much if they like more PG fare like Black Panther which has only chaste kisses and near bloodless combat. This is a R rated film and they don't get made that much anymore. Some critics will with some justification say it glorifies sexual violence, re-victimizes women and is traumatic in general. The truth is that the "honey trap" used to get information or blackmail suspects in Russia is as old as the country itself. It has not been mentioned anywhere but some even theorize that Donald Trump is not critical of Russia because he is beholden to "sparrows" who were used to bring him to heel.

It should also be kept in mind that the same weekend Red Sparrow comes out that a former Russian agent and woman are poisoned in the U.K. With this all happening and connected to modern day Russia, Red Sparrow seems as current as can be. And while too much for some people, it is based on reality. Who's the say that Matron played by Charlotte Rampling does not exist as a trainer of men and women in using their bodies to gather intelligence?

The issue of the mole in Russian intelligence occupies by both the Russians and Americans. Marble has not re-established contact since his handler Nash escaped back to the U.S. With reluctance, the CIA reactivates Nate and sends him to Budapest to hide in plain sight so that Marble reaches out to contact him. The SVR learns that Nash is in eastern Europe but can't extract him and get the mole's name lest every agent would risk the same thing. Rules for the new Cold War apply: Kill our agent and we'll kill yours.

Despite Dominika's resistance in training or perhaps because of it, she is assessed by her uncle's bosses General Korchnoi and Colonel Zacharov played by Jeremy Irons and Ciaran Hands. They decide to dispatch her to Budapest to get the information but her life hangs in the balance every step of the way. It is there that she meets another sparrow who tell her that her life will never be her own lest she find a way to do things on terms.

Our two protagonists meet and do eventually end up together but time is running out for Dominika as it is apparent that Nash will not reveal who the mole is. She has to improvise and offers up a secondary target of a Senator's chief of staff (played with boozy enthusiasm by Mary-Louise Parker) but the whole affair goes badly where both Russians and Americans believe the were played.

The graphic violence and sex are hard to watch at times but Jennifer Lawrence never is. Nudity abounds. The chemistry between the two central characters is hard to measure as so much is happening. It also has to be contrasted with the thought that both are using each other although we don't see what Dominka's final play will be until the end. In short, her solution plays itself out by being hidden in plain sight.

Black Panther is dominating the box office all month and could set even more records. However, if you want something more adult then Red Sparrow might be more to the liking. There are few true movie stars left. Jennifer Lawrence is the one that shine brightest right now. It is interesting to see what she does when she is not a Marvel superhero herself.

Monday, February 19, 2018

McNally Robinson The Forks Now Open

On Friday, just as Jets game was getting ready to go and The Forks was about to launch into another monster Festival du Voyageur. there was thing overlooked in all the hoopla At one point on Saturday a warning went out on CBC radio that parking all over from museum to Johnson Terminal was packed with people attending Festival and Mardi Gras at Union Station. For those people convinced downtown ain't got nothing going on especially in winter, it came as a surprise when seeing rugby players in an outdoor tournament by the ScotiaBank Theatre. It was cold out out! Yet, people walking and skating and enjoying events on both sides of the river.

The Common restaurant format at The Forks is probably one of the most innovative and mature decision made in Canada. It basically said it believed Winnipeg was responsible for enough for alcohol, food and retailing in an open concept and weren't going to treat it like a beer garden of...say...irresponsible rugby players. In fact, after play a few rugby players imbibed and asked: Does white wine go with bruises and ice abrasions?

As mentioned, given the high car and foot traffic making it to one of Winnipeg's top attractions, it was a little tweet that indicated a momentous opening was taking place. McNally Robinson has returned downtown for the first time in years. Their last presence in the area has been at Portage Place and they were still a going concern when they made the choice to move to Polo Park. It was a tough start there and they might have survived it had they also not taken up residence in a Toronto mall that was an unmitigated disaster. The creditors gave them a choice...retrench or die. Polo Park and their Toronto location closed and the Winnipeg Grant Park and Saskatoon location survived and eventually turned it around and were sold to principles who worked a long time for McNallys.

A book store at The Forks makes sense. It is where many in the city go to entertain, eat and shop and the events are pushing further out with each year. The truth is that bookstores are still relevant and the store itself will be an attraction there. We've waited a long time for the return of McNally downtown. Welcome back.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Movie Review: Early Man

Early Man is a British animated stop-motion movie from the creators of Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep. It has a particular look and feel that has become familiar and a type of humour that is absurdist English that has garnered fans around the world. The movie written by Mark Burton and James Higginson and directed by Oscar-winning Nick Park is an Aardman Animations and BFI production distributed by StudioCanal.

In the thirty years that the team behind Wallace and Gromit began, stop motion has advanced greatly but not so far as to remove the occasional thumb print in the clay that is endearing to the art form. There is an old school feel to work and although this an original tale, it comes from the same family of characters except in this case back to pre-historic times.

Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) voices Dug, a caveman with aspirations. He is curious why his tribe only hunts rabbits and what the round object everyone is chasing in the cave drawings.  As we come to learn, the round object is a soccer ball and the ancestors of the tribe invented the game. As for why they hunt only rabbits, it quickly becomes clear his tribe is lucky to catch even those adorable creatures. Dug is accompanied by his trusty hog friend in his adventures by Hognob voiced by director Nick Park himself.

Still, life is good in the valley of what we are told in the prologue is near Manchester in Britain. That is, until Bronze-age interlopers come in with machines and elephant to push out the cavemen to the badlands. Lord Nooth voiced by Tom Hiddleston (Thor) in a very French accent arrives and mining begins immediately. The other Bonze-agers have a variety of European accents and a banner of blue and yellow. This nod to Brexit will be lost on the kids but will generate smirks and guffaws from adults and the analogy is tiny little Britain against big old Europe.

Only Dug looks to challenge Lord Nooth but in the attempt gets knocked out and is transported to the the Bronze-age fortress. It is here and undercover that he discovers that the people here play soccer just like in the drawings in the long forgotten Stone-age caves. Unfortunately Dug is captured and a desperate last measure, he challenges the arrogant Nooth to a soccer game between the tribes. The stakes are if Dug wins, they reclaim the valley they lost and of Nooth wins, the Cavemen will work the mines.

Early Man delivers visual humour, puns and slapstick mixed in with politics and sport. Dug finds an ally in Goona (Maise Williams) who longs to play soccer but Bronze-age team doesn't allow girls. She switches sides and teaches the Stone-age team. Meanwhile the scheming Lord Nooth plans how to undermine Dug even before the game. There is some hilarious scenes with a message bird voiced by Rob Byndon that steal the moment and a play by and play and colour commentary of the final soccer game that are full of puns.

At a breezy 89 minutes, Early Man should keep the attention of the young and not be too long for the old. It is the perfect counterpoint to the movies out there that are just too mature for young families. It is sweet and nostalgic and fun.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Popeyes Restaurant and Euro Food Dubromart Coming to Seasons of Tuxedo

Seasons of Tuxedo has confirmed Winnipeg's first Popeyes restaurant is coming to Winnipeg as well as the third location of Euro Food Dubromart in a building well under construction in front of the Outlet Collection of Winnipeg.

More to come...

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Osborne and Stradbrook Mall to Get Makeover

After 20 years with the same owner, the corner of Stradbrook and Osborne across from the firehouse has changed hands. It is has been pointed out in this blog a number of times that there are few actual owners of entire strips of Osborne as they have remained tightly within the families who were to invest in the street. They owned and operated businesses from the 1970s till now although a number of long term retailers and restaurants have closed.

A number of vacancies have lingered on long as rents are very high for newcomers. As a result, thoughts of sub-dividing properties for a better mix of tenants has been proposed. For some owners, it has become a good time to sell. And so it was at Stradbrook and Osborne where Jeckyll & Hyde's pub and the Stradbrook Chiropractic Centre reside amonsgt others.

The corner was purchased by the Norman Hugh Group (NHG) and KAI Asset management. NHG is a Winnipeg-based real estate investment firm based in The Exchange founded by David Bell. KAI is a real estate and business investor also in The Exchange founded by Paul Allard and Robert MacKay. KAI is majority owner while NHG is minority shareholder.

The corner which includes 16,000 square feet of lease-able property and 50 parking spots has some of the highest traffic counts in Winnipeg. The property was purchased for $4.25 million and an additional million is being invested as part of the site improvements as detailed in the picture. The previous owner had not too much in the last 20 years in terms of the overall design.

Over the next months it is expected that several properties will be re-developed and leased along Osborne. It is obvious the value of the property remains high and some of the long term landlords are now cashing in.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Loka to Move to Academy Road

The former home of Moule at Academy Road and Niagara shut down this year and was promptly demolished. Presently before zoning is a plan to build a new two floor building with the retail store Loka occupying the first floor and a physiotherapy clinic taking the second floor.

Parking will remain limited along the side but street parking on Academy can accommodate a number of cars. Loka is presently located on Corydon Avenue at Waterloo Street but for a time was on Academy Road near Lanark Street until it and combined with a Richardson Concourse location in 2014.

River Heights continues to see growth of the commercial sector along Academy. This past year saw controversy over a medical clinic going up near Borebank Street.

The new business should not be as much of a concern as it replaces a business that was already there.

Local businesses that actually serve the local area are probably less of a burden than traffic that races through destined for somewhere else. And as far as parking in the area, this is a reflection that many homeowners own two, three or four cars in a family that do not fit in the generally one car garages ob the neighbourhood. Hence, thousands of cars parked  between Wellington Crescent and Taylor in all of River Heights in front of homes.

Loka and athephysio clinic are likely to be up sometime in 2018.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Polo Park Number 14 Mall in Canada 2017

In 2017, CF Polo Park continued to be one of the top malls in Canada based on sale poor square footage. As expected, Toronto took the top spot along with a few Vancouver malls rounding out the top 3. However, Winnipeg's largest mall came in at number 14 in the listings.

In other categories such as total square footage and most pedestrian traffic, none of Winnipeg's malls ranked in the top 10. Surprisingly, Garden City Shopping Centre had higher sales per square footage than St. Vital Centre. On the face of it, St. Vital has more retailers but obviously more does not equal higher sales.

There were no figures for the Outlet Collection Mall as it just opened this year.

The top four Winnipeg malls will all be dealing with the closure of Sears much like much of Canada. For malls like Polo Park, it represents an opportunity to land Nordstrom's or Simon's. The fully leasing of Polo Park's off campus building in the former Target takes that property off their books. HomeSense/Winners, 24-7 InTouch Call Centre and Cineplex's Odeon's Rec Centre moving in.

It will be interesting to see how replacing Sears in the top malls will affect sales. For some malls who saw Sears leave early on in their woes a few years ago, the sales jumped considerably.

The Retail Council of Canada which conducted the study indicates the Winnipeg has less retail than Alberta but more than Greater Vancouver. It will be interesting to see where the latest building of retails puts the city on the listing next year.

It is believed that Polo Park is looking at a major upgrade being announced soon with the redevelopment of Sears. Sometimes it is lost in the haze of the redevelopment of the old Zellers on the second floor that the mall has had the same decor for some time. It is going to be quite a whirl because four city malls will be in a race to fill their empty Sear space this year.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Sam's Club Fargo-Moorhead to Close

On the heel's of Walmart announcing they were raising all their employees wages, the company announced that they were closing one of the two warehouse Sam's Club in Fargo/Moorhead, North Dakota/Minnesota putting 168 workers out of a job by January 26. The store  closing is along the Interstate heading to Minneapolis close to the Menard's in Moorhead, Minnesota.

Unlike Sam's Club in Grand Forks which was built soon after Walmart, the Sam's Club in Moorhead is distant to the Walmart Supercenter which is deeper into the city. This might have proved too problematic as the two stores feed off each other's customer draw.

Costco entered the Fargo-Moorhead market just a number of years ago but they chose their location in the rapidly expanding south Fargo area down from West Acres Mall. The old gentlemen's agreement to have Costco and Sam's staying out of each other's market appeared to have turned into a war.

Unlike Winnipeg's three Costco's which are always busy, Fargo-Moorhead's warehouse stores often have emptier parking lots. This is true of Sam's and Costco's locations. Truth is the U.S. is more over retailed than Canada is and that's saying a lot. It is also adopting online sales at a greater pace than almost anywhere as well.

Store closures can be seen as an opportunity. While West Acres in Fargo and Columbia Mall in Grand Forks have been greatly bruised with the closures of Sears and J.C. Penny stores, they can re-purpose their malls to smaller and more profitable sized retailers and restaurants. Moreover, stores like Kmart that closed in Moorhead only a short time ago have found new regional players like Runnings move in. The 86,000 square at that location became the 16th in a Minnesota-based Runnings group focused on farm and outdoor sales.

Meanwhile In Winnipeg, the last Target will soon be home to a call centre, Winners/Homesense and Rec Centre. That concludes the leasing of all the former Zellers/Target locations in Winnipeg.

The 63 Sam''s locations closures are sad and in some cases shocking to those that worked or shopped there. Sam's in Moorhead was only built in 2014 and occupied 186,000 square feet by a highway. Alas, it was not enough and for Winnipggers who have Sam's memberships (and there are a few), they will still have Grand Fork and West Fargo's Same to shop at.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Hyatt House Season of Tuxedo Plans

They put in an application in May and now it is revised for Hyatt House Hotel in the Seasons of Tuxedo. The six story 135 room L-shaped hotel will be out towards Sterling Lyon Parkway in front of the Seasons apartments and Cabela's.

The revised plans include better landscaping and fencing for the space.

The plans still leave a lot of space which at a guess could small shops or services or more likely a restaurant but nothing is on the books yet.

Across the street in the Outlet Collection Mall and several condos and apartments. The transformation has been dramatic along the street in only a few years.

Hyatt will join the Hilton as the first two hotels built in southwest Winnipeg since the 1960s.

The obvious needs of Sterling Lyon Parkway/Wilkes are going to be more stark in the next months to years. Still, no money for road expansion beyond Shaftesbury Boulevard seems to be in the cards. On the plus side, the city is in surplus this year which is very likely the result of projects like this that are bringing in new taxes in infill areas.