Division of Power #2 Debunking downtown boosterism

Despite the optimism that has engulfed the city with the return of the Winnipeg Jets, who just achieved their first win over Pittsburgh last night in front of an audience of the privileged few who can afford tickets, real downtown cultural staples seem to be vacating in droves.

Among the businesses that are experiencing difficulty (financial or otherwise) or have closed shop entirely: Gio’s, Aqua Books, the Royal Albert Arms, Discreet Boutique, Vintage Glory (which was denied a new location), Wild Planet (which re-located to Osborne) and the A-zone Co-op, which includes Mondragon Bookstore.

And that is just to name a few.

These businesses are not one-trick ponies in terms of what they offer Winnipeg’s cultural and business landscape. The businesses that are leaving, or are in trouble, are the very businesses that have anchored the cultural vitality of the core area.

The Uniter has, and will continue, to report on the various businesses that have closed shop, or are on the verge of closing shop, in the downtown and the Exchange District and I sincerely hope that all our readers pay close attention to their urban landscape and get in touch with us about the state of their communities.

Many of the businesses listed above have suffered the wrath of market forces, perhaps beyond their control. In other cases, the difficulties have been due to the city’s failure to facilitate small business development in the downtown, either through improvements to safety or through extensive red tape.

After all, as The Uniter reported several weeks ago, it is a miracle that the oft-touted Parlour Coffee opened at all given the amount of capital wasted by its owner waiting for the city to live up to its commitments.

Yes, the Winnipeg Jets have returned and, yes, there have been some significant investments made to improve downtown Winnipeg.

However, with business improvement zones and downtown development agencies looking largely to attract tourists and suburbanites through mega-projects that capitalize on the MTS Centre and the Winnipeg Convention Centre, and with property owners signing on to the same philosophy, we may be losing touch with the cultural vitality we once celebrated as a city.

In the face of boosterism from all sides of the political spectrum about the state of downtown Winnipeg, it is important to remain critical.

If you have any stories to tell about Exchange District or downtown businesses, please contact me at news@uniter.ca.

Division of Power is a biweekly exploration of politics and federalism as it pertains to Winnipeg