Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Too cozy to fail?

English degrees become even more useless today, as McNally Robinson Booksellers announced the company is in bankruptcy protection, and have laid off close to 200 employees at their stores at Polo Park and in Don Mills, ON.

Like when McNally Robinson vacated their Portage Place premises a couple of years ago, this certainly comes as sad news (the Polo Park store's awkardly confusing layout notwithstanding). And while it was surprising when I read it this morning (my last memory of the place was the frantic aisles and a long queues of Christmastime), it is much less so after a moment of consideration. The rehabilitation of the former Sport Check location in the basement of Polo Park was obviously not an inexpensive move, involving constructing an entirely new facade and extensive remodelling of the interior. The end result was a branch store with roughly the same floor space as the flagship store located a 10-15 drive away.

This seemed a little too much bookstore for the location. Polo Park is a great for selling iPods, skinny jeans, and cashmere sweaters, but for a store whose market is the established literate classes of the city (and surrounding hinterlands), it's hard to imagine an operation of that scale being profitable there.

Equally unsurprising, is that the compnay's woes are being caused by the internet. CBC Radio spent the afternoon blaming this on more people downloading e-books, or ordering them online. The few individuals I know that have downloading a book online, have done so to assist with hastily writing a school paper. Certainly never to read.

Winnipeg's literary scene has never been better than it has in recent years, thanks in no small part to millions of titles available (for good prices) through the internet. In 2009, people that continued to read books had the printed world at their fingertips, and more access to more books than they would have 20 years earlier. McNally Robinson proves at Grant Park (and apparently Saskatoon) can be profitable and thrive as a compliment to the new amazon.com reality.

The company's troubles come from taking very costly risks at a very bad time to do so. Namely, months before a recession. The unfortunate part for Winnipeg customers, is that the company now has one location instead of two.

***Is Sandy Shindleman suggesting auto workers read books?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Merry Christmas

Little updating of this blog is anticipated over the holidays, or until after new year's day, and so I will leave its readers with warm wishes and a winter scene from the city of Winnipeg, best viewed large.

The busy sidewalks of Main Street, looking north from near McDermot Avenue, circa 1913. Not the Woodbine Hotel's sign. Source of photo is unknown

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Beautiful, normal

At the intersection of Carlton and Cumberland Avenue at 6:30 this evening, I looked into Central Park and saw a well-maintained little skating rink in the centre of the green. A trio of skaters were shooting a puck around under a new set of bright lights. In the background stood Knox United--the greatest of the city's Presbyterian kirk buildings; an imposing example of Gothic revival--was also lit up. Never have I felt such an urge to find a pair of skates for myself.

And while this blog remains firmly pessimistic in its focus (it's so much easier), this scene made me excited about the redevelopment plans for Central Park. Putting a hockey rink in winter will prove to be a great idea, along with a soccer pitch for warm months.

When I came back past the park at 8:30 p.m., there was another small group playing hockey. Let's hope they keep on playing, and that beautiful, civil, quintessentially Canadians scenes like this become more common in Central Park.

Knox Church, corner of Qu'appelle and Edmonton St. WBI

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

We'll figure it all out later

When half the Provincial budget comes from transfer payments from other provinces anyway, they can afford to introduce measures to cripple the economy.

Here's how cap-and-trade works.

Speaking of competence, "City council is poised to approve the purchase of a police helicopter today and then wait until the new year for a report about the costs and benefits."

With a council of children at 510 Main Street, egged on by their arrogant older brother on Broadway, it is no wonder Winnipeg ("it's like a small town") needs L.A.-size crime-fighting tactics.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Dullness is sexy

As I suspected, my piece in the Free Press last week inspired a response from someone affronted by the notion that maybe another 50 years of publicly-planned parkades downtown might not be the way to go.

This response came from East St. Paul resident Stefano Grande, Director of the Downtown Winnipeg Business Improvement Zone, who tried to sell the public on how new parkades are not only neccessary, but can be sexy and fun!

As I stated in my article, it's all a matter of civic priorities: parkades are never "catalysts" for other uses, and their overabundant presence detracts from conditions that do attract development. And so, if in 2009 new parkades are considered a major priority for downtown Winnipeg, the city should ditch the pretense that it wants to see dynamic, mixed-use and densely-populated neighborhoods there. Instead, it should be more honest with itself in that it simply wants to be district that gives everything to keep suburban commuters with happy with cheap covered parking spaces.

It's their downtown, and it's no wonder them and everyone else avoids it on their own time.