Downtown Winnipeg Bay store to close in February
Retailer's iconic downtown location opened in 1926
A historic Winnipeg landmark will shut its doors next year, but it might not be at risk of meeting the wrecking ball just yet.
The Hudson's Bay Company confirmed in a statement Friday that its nearly century-old downtown Winnipeg location will close in February 2021.
"With shifting consumer behaviour and changes to how and where customers are shopping, after careful consideration Hudson's Bay has determined it will close its downtown Winnipeg location in February 2021," company spokesperson Tiffany Bourré said in a statement emailed to CBC on Friday.
The Hudson's Bay Co. building at the corner of Portage Avenue and Memorial Boulevard opened on Nov. 18, 1926.
Once a retail hub in the city, in recent years, only two of the building's six floors have been open to shoppers.
Last November, when HBC appraised all of its 89 properties, the Portage Avenue building was given a market value of $0 by real estate evaluator Cushman & Wakefield — because the costs involved in redevelopment would essentially erase its worth in a sale.
Technically, the building was worth even less than that because of a tax liability of $302,298.
The Bay's other Winnipeg stores, at the Polo Park and St. Vital shopping centres, will remain open.
"We also remain open to working with the city and partners to find opportunities for this landmark building" downtown, Bourré said in her statement.
"While these decisions are difficult, they are the right ones for our business and reflect customer preferences," she said, adding the company is committed to treating the store's employees "with respect and fairness through this process.
"All eligible associates will receive appropriate employment separation packages and transfer opportunities will be explored where feasible."
Future of the building in question
Mayor Brian Bowman said via email that while the news is disappointing, he has spoken with the HBC's president, Iain Nairn, who assured him that the company wants to work with the community on next steps for the building.
"The HBC building forms an important part of Winnipeg's history and many of us have positive memories attached to it as part [of] our downtown," he said.
It will take someone with deep pockets, and likely support from three levels of government, to revitalize the space —something that could prove challenging to find amidst a struggling economy, said Jino Distasio, the University of Winnipeg's vice-president of research and innovation.
Though the building does have heritage status, there is the potential that the building could see the wrecking ball if it remains vacant for too long, Distasio said, pointing to the demolition of the Eaton's department store on Portage Avenue in 2003.
"People last year were indicating that the Bay, as a building, had little value because of the investment needed to bring it up to date for other uses," he said.
"That's always an indicator of, wow, if somebody takes this on, it is a massive project. And are we prepared to take that on now?"
But what happened to the old Eaton's building was a very different situation: it was demolished to make way for a new arena, said Cindy Tugwell with Heritage Winnipeg.
The Bay building is not facing the same risks — at least not right now, she said
"Everybody wasn't thinking about saving Eaton's, they were thinking about getting a new arena, and ideally … a great location for an arena," she said.
"In this particular case, I don't think there's any imminent decisions for … any kind of new facility to go there."
The Hudson's Bay Co. building received historical designation from the city on March 21. The designation means the building cannot be demolished without being removed from the city's historic buildings list, which requires a lengthy process through city hall.
Tugwell said she thinks younger generations will also rally behind the building.
"It's been proven they want to work in them, they want to live in them, and I think that if you're talking about a building for future generations for the next 50 or 100 years. I hope to see the younger people rally behind this and protect the building," she said.
- An earlier version of this story identified Jino Distasio as the director of the Institute of Urban Studies at the University of Winnipeg. In fact, he is the University of Winnipeg's vice-president of research and innovation.Oct 03, 2020 10:20 AM CT
With files from Nick Frew