Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Chip & Pepper clothing closes its Kenora store

But city's biggest concern is filling old Zellers store

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Surfers in and around Kenora will have to find a new source for staying on the cutting edge of fashion next summer.

The Chip & Pepper Lake of the Woods store, a hotbed of board shorts, T-shirts, jeans and hoodies, has closed down after a five-year run.

But it's not due to poor sales, according to Tom Thomson, who has run the store since its inception. He said he and his business associate have too many other things going on and they're no longer able to dedicate the proper time to the store.

Thomson is a photographer who also runs a magazine publishing company.

The 1,000-square-foot store on Main Street typically runs from May until Labour Day but this time the closing isn't temporary.

"It's always done well. It was a little slow this past year, but nothing bad," Thomson said.

Chip and Pepper Foster, the Winnipeg-born twins who hit the big time with their line of surf wear in the late 1980s, have focused most of their attention in recent years on high-end jeans out of their Los Angeles base. The high-energy duo still maintains a cottage at Lake of the Woods.

Neither Foster was available for an interview.

Thompson said the twins would come into the store from time to time when they were in town and would sometimes lend a hand on the shop floor.

"They really loved the area," he said.

'It's always done well. It was a little slow this past year, but nothing bad'

To back up his point, Thompson noted the rivets on Chip & Pepper jeans were stamped, "Lake of the Woods."

The bigger retail issue in Kenora, however, is filling the old Zellers store at the Kenora Shoppers Mall. The 77,085-square-foot space, which has been empty since the spring, was not picked up by Target after its $1.83-billion purchase of Zellers' leaseholds in 2011. It is by far the biggest space at the 40-year-old mall.

Jennifer Findlay, economic development officer for the City of Kenora, said she is working with the mall landlord to try to find a new anchor tenant.

"The Zellers closure has left a big hole in the mall property for us. When that space fills, it will breathe new life into the downtown," she said.

"Kenora is considered a secondary market. We're not currently on the list for a Target store."

Secondary markets, however, are often built on the backs of small and medium-sized enterprises. Findlay said a just-released survey for the Habourview BIZ found 261 new jobs, including 129 full-time positions, have been created at downtown restaurants and retailers over the last five years.

The original hope was to create 100 jobs over a decade.

"All you have to do is walk up Main or Second (streets). When I take people on tours, it's always, 'this is a new restaurant, this is a new business, this entrepreneur moved here from Winnipeg,' " she said.

Sandra Kaiser, vice-president of corporate affairs for SmartCentres, the leasing agent for the mall's owner, RetroCom REIT, said it is exploring all of its options, including reconfiguring the space to accommodate a couple of medium-sized tenants.

"We're not discouraged. It's always a challenge when you're left with a large space. We'll get there. This is a normal cycle in retail. Tenants come and go," she said.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 20, 2013 B8

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