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Hudson’s Bay should invite more retailers to fill space in iconic Winnipeg building: Business expert

The Bay store is pictured at Portage Avenue and Colony street in Winnipeg in this May 22, 2011, file photo. The Canadian Press Images/Francis Vachon

Earlier this month, Edmonton’s Hudson’s Bay store announced the upcoming closure of its City Centre location

READ MORE: Hudson’s Bay in Edmonton City Centre mall to close

Whether or not Winnipeg’s Hudson’s Bay location downtown can survive is something Asper School of Business marketing professor Fang Wan said will be an interesting challenge, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the fall, the iconic building, built in 1926, was given a valuation of $0; selling it would cost millions, and an estimated $111 million would have to be spent bringing the building up to code.

READ MORE: Heritage Winnipeg sees opportunity in dismal financial appraisal of downtown Bay building

“Experience is really the key,” sais Wan.

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She said the retailer, which has two floors of open space, should invite new players to the game and divide the floors into different spaces.

Wan said the building needs to be more innovative in order to attract more consumers: split the store into smaller retail outlets and add restaurants or common areas.

She said social distancing is going to be a big challenge for retail, with traffic volume being so important to big box stores.

Some companies, she added, might not survive the pandemic.

“It’s really disastrous in terms of their revenue,” she said.

Stores that were able to shift online, however, have a leg up.

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Wan said consumers were forced to feel more comfortable with shopping online after stores across the country were shuttered, but said ultimately stores that have a better chance of surviving if the brand name is solid.

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“If the consumers have a long-term relationship with the brand, online shopping can become the main vehicle,” she said.

In regards to The Bay’s future, Wan said the downtown unit also poses a challenge with the 94-year-old building located on a corner lot.

“That space can be more creatively designed and I think we can source different kinds of retailers there,” she said.

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