Grant program aims to reverse trend of disappearing businesses in downtown Winnipeg

The $2.5 million Downtown Building Business Program aims to help struggling downtown Winnipeg businesses recover from the impacts of the pandemic and attract new establishments to fill vacant storefronts.

$2.5M program to help improve storefronts, develop businesses and fill vacant locations

A new program aims to help existing downtown Winnipeg businesses recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and attract new businesses to vacant storefronts. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

A new grant program aims to help struggling downtown Winnipeg businesses recover from the impacts of the pandemic and attract new establishments to fill vacant storefronts.

The Manitoba Chambers of Commerce and the Manitoba government have partnered to provide the Downtown Building Business Program.

The $2.5 million program will be used to support existing businesses with space improvements and business development, with 20 per cent reserved for BIPOC-owned businesses and another 20 per cent allocated to businesses owned by women.

It also includes funding to connect businesses with empty downtown storefronts and help to improve dilapidated locations.

The program will be administered by the Downtown Action Team, an initiative of the Downtown Winnipeg Business Improvement Zone as part of its downtown recovery framework. The team includes representatives from poverty reduction and community support agencies, and members from the arts and cultural sectors.

"We want to welcome people back downtown with streets full of unique and successful businesses where people want to shop, explore and work," said Downtown BIZ CEO Kate Fenske, speaking at a news conference on Monday.

With public health orders forcing some stores to close and many offices pivoting to remote work due to COVID-19, many businesses lost their customer base, and activity in the downtown still hasn't returned to pre-pandemic levels.

More than 70 businesses have closed downtown since the pandemic began, and for every one business that opens, two close, said Fenske.

"The Building Business Program will help reverse that trend and get us back to where we were in 2019 when we had such great momentum."

One downtown business owner who previously received funding through the Downtown Winnipeg Connect Program, which was designed to help businesses adapt and build capacity to generate revenue, said programs like this have kept him afloat during difficult times.

"That has helped me buy time ... to support my staff and my clients and reinvent our business," said Tim Yuen, owner of 9Fitness.

The ground-floor vacancy rate in downtown Winnipeg sits at about 30 per cent, or 150 storefronts, said Fenske. 

The goal of the program is to decrease that by 25 per cent within two years.


Cameron MacLean is a journalist for CBC Manitoba living in Winnipeg, where he was born and raised. He has more than a decade of experience reporting in the city and across Manitoba, covering a wide range of topics, including courts, politics, housing, arts, health and breaking news. Email story tips to