When you walk into Ordnry Clothing in Winnipeg's Exchange District, you're in for a big surprise.

On the main floor of the store at 233 McDermot Avenue, you see amazing clothes and unique accessories. Then you look up and see something quite unexpected.

Upstairs there is a barber shop. Three chairs that are always busy.

"Fashion and hair, nobody else is doing it in the city," co-owner Adrian Kinnavanthong said.

Adrian Kinnavanthong

Adrian Kinnavanthong, co-owner Ordnry Clothing (Margaux Watt/CBC)

"So we thought it might have been a game changer for the city.  I mean a lot of bigger cities are doing that. The response that we got after doing it was really good," he said.

"It turned out to be a pretty good idea", he added. "We stand out because we're bringing something to the table that nobody else is bringing — with the barbershop, with the style of clothes that we're bringing."

Exchange leading the way on 'destination retail'

For years in Winnipeg, we've heard about destination retail, the idea of making key areas destinations that will attract people to spend their time and money.

It's something the downtown has struggled with for some time.

In the Exchange, entrepreneurs are thinking outside the box to attract consumers from the suburbs.

The Exchange District Biz has begun strategic planning to create a vision for Winnipeg's Exchange.

Biz executive director Brian Timmerman said they want to make sure people get the right message about the area.

"When people hear about the Exchange District there's a vision that pops in their mind whether it's historic, whether it's a cool area, whether it's full of retail shops or is it all restaurants," Timmerman said.  

"So as an organization we want to make sure we're kind of in lockstep with what everybody wants us to be, and that includes the residents, it includes the workers, it includes the visitors."

Timmerman said they want the Exchange be the arts and culture mecca for the city, along the lines of Vancouver's Gastown.

Restaurants moving in

"The restaurants play a big factor in the night life of the district, so we very much want to continue the momentum we're having with the growth in the number of restaurants in the area," he said.

And the number of restaurants is on the increase.

Mandel Hitzer

Mandel Hitzer, chef/owner Deer + Almond (Margaux Watt/CBC)

There are now 45 restaurants in the Exchange District. That's more than two restaurants per block.

One restaurant that has been getting a lot of buzz is Deer + Almond Restaurant on Princess Street.

"We make everything in house," chef and owner Mandel Hitzer said. "It's a lot of work, but it's a labour of love".

The idea of destination retail became a focus for him when he decided to open a restaurant in the Exchange District.

Hitzer says he knew they had to build a location that was a destination to pull people out of their neighbourhoods.

"A lot of Winnipeggers don't like parking downtown or don't like coming downtown, but we have a beautiful downtown. It's bustling, there's a lot of business and there's a lot of opportunity to explore," he said.

"I feel like to be a successful Winnipegger, sometimes you have to kind of act as a tourist and take part in all the great things the city has to offer."

Hitzer talks a lot about community as he describes his business approach and about building community within the restaurant industry.

He says it's all about bringing people together to celebrate food and celebrate Winnipeg and Manitoba.

Making the Exchange a destination

In today's competitive world of big box stores, suburban shopping malls, and online shopping, some experts say being a destination for consumers is vital.

Jon Schallert is a destination retail consultant based in Colorado. He has consulted with more than 10,000 businesses in some 500 communities across North America, including some in Canada.

He says the concept is that location doesn't matter anymore and that consumers will willingly travel to any shopping environment, retail, restaurant or service, regardless of parking or the area.

"Retailers who are really savvy are using these destination principles to really make themselves so different that a consumer says, ‘I can't get that online. I've never seen that before. I want to go there for that experience,’" Schallert said.

Schallert said there are a series of steps businesses have to go through, some involving product and customer service. He said it's about making sure you "amaze" the consumer once they arrive.

For an area like the Exchange District, that has an architectural advantage, destination retail is very important, he said.

"It's critical. It's probably the main reason that a historic area like the Exchange can become viable and can draw consumers to it."

Schallert also runs destination business bootcamps, where he teaches businesses how to make themselves destinations, which he says, in turn, can change business districts and entire communities.