Winnipeg shoppers are beginning to digest the news that the city’s most iconic department store will be closing its doors for good.
Following a decision by the Hudson’s Bay Company to close its Portage Avenue location late Friday afternoon, many are left wondering what will occupy the iconic corner of Portage and Memorial once The Bay moves out in February.
The building, which first opened its doors to shoppers in 1926, just received a heritage designation from the city in 2019.
“The significance of this building, the historic nature of it, the beauty can’t be underlined and it will be retained. But, it deserves something special,” said the area’s city councillor, Sherri Rollins.
As for what the designation may lead to, Rollins says several ideas are on the table.
“A flood of ideas are coming in terms of housing, to recreation, to something special. People want to retain the windows and really see the artistic value of the windows, and it’s in an artistic corridor.” Rollins continued.
In the wake of Friday’s announcement, several Winnipeggers awaited the store’s opening the following day.
“We heard on the news that it was going to close, and to be honest I come here every now and then, but we wanted to come again because it does mean something to us,” explained Viola Giesbrecht, who decided to make a last-minute stop at the store on Saturday morning with her husband, Rod.
Having grown up in Winnipeg, the Giesbrechts are disappointed to see a pillar of the city’s downtown retail scene fade away.
“Well this style of building, I don’t know what you would re-purpose it as. It’s unique to a time. It was built to last 100 years, what do we build to last 100 years nowadays?” Rod Giesbrecht said.
What was once a retail hub in downtown Winnipeg will become an empty building for the short term. And currently, only two floors out of what was once a six-floor department store are open to shoppers.
That poses the question of whether the closure will begin a downward spiral for big retail across the city.
“It’s really over the past decade a softening of department store sales. There was a growing popularity of malls in the suburbs that created a softening of sales, a real shift towards discount retail as well,” says John Graham, the director of government relations at the Retail Council of Canada.
With the announcement of the store’s closure as well as the impact of COVID-19, Graham remains hopeful that other big box stores will survive in Winnipeg.
“Retailers are going to continually reinvent themselves, reinvent their brick and mortar locations, but I have confidence that Manitoba and Winnipeg, in particular, will continue to see some unique retail offerings,” he concluded.