Manitoba

Silent nights at The Bay downtown

Not even the Christmas shopping season is bringing life to The Bay's downtown Winnipeg store. Bare shelves and deserted aisles have left some Winnipeggers worried about the future of the Portage Avenue landmark.

Small Christmas crowds prompt concern about landmark store's future

Not even the Christmas shopping season is bringing life to The Bay's downtown Winnipeg store.

Bare shelves and deserted aisles have left some Winnipeggers worried about the future of the landmark, which has stood at the corner of Portage Avenue and Memorial Boulevard since it opened on Nov. 18, 1926.

Elizabeth Schinkel drove into the city from Lac du Bonnet to do her Christmas shopping and was shocked when she walked into The Bay on Tuesday.

"[There were] tables and tables that are empty. I couldn't find children's anything. Like, where's the little girls' dresses?" she said.

The basement of the six-storey, 675,000-square-foot building is almost empty, save for the grocery store and a few racks of paperback books.

Display cases stand empty in several departments.

"The store is going out of business, that was my first reaction," said Schinkel.

In an email statement to CBC News, the company insists the flagship store isn't closing down. It says the store is being stocked with the same goods as any other location.

City has long ties to company

Winnipeg has a long connection with the company, whose first retail department store opened in the city in 1881 at the corner of Main Street and York Avenue.

In 1970, on the 300th birthday of the company — which shortened its named from The Hudson's Bay Company to The Bay in 1964 — head office functions were transferred from London, England, to Winnipeg.

As the company expanded into the east, head office functions were later moved to Toronto.

The Hudson's Bay Company Archives are located in the Manitoba Archives building on Vaughan Street, across from The Bay's parkade. The records cover HBC history from the founding of the company in 1670, including business transactions, medical records, personal journals of officials, inventories, and company reports.

Sold to American interests

It's been almost four years now since the company was sold to American interests and there were rumoured plans to downsize the downtown Winnipeg store.

Representatives of local developer, Shindico Realty, told CBC News the company is working on a plan to rent out several vacant floors of The Bay but details were not disclosed because negotiations are at a "sensitive stage."

Rob Warren, who heads up the Asper Centre for Entrepreneurship at the University of Manitoba, believes the retailer has been waiting to see what impact the Manitoba Hydro headquarters will generate on sales.

More than 2,000 employees are working out of the new Portage Avenue Hydro building, located a few blocks from The Bay.

"This will be the first full year where you've got the new Hydro building open and that's drawing  a lot of people downtown. If I were The Bay, I'd be looking at using that particular location to draw more customers in during the day," said Warren.

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