Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mixed reaction to plan to shut hotel

Infamous Merchants to be bought out

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WORD that community groups are buying and closing the notorious Merchants Hotel on Selkirk Avenue was met with hope and concern by customers and neighbours Sunday night.

"I want to close this dump down," said Rob Gurniak, who'd just bought a case of beer at the vendor and was hurrying away on foot before it could get stolen. "A woman got killed here for a bloody cigarette," he said Sunday evening.

Last month, the University of Winnipeg led a consortium that obtained an option to purchase the hotel, sources say.

U of W spokeswoman Diane Poulin confirmed Sunday night that there would be an announcement on Selkirk Avenue today by members of the community but she wouldn't provide any details.

It's believed to be part of the Urban Circle Training Centre/University of Manitoba school of social work North End campus development on Selkirk. Sources say the lot behind the hotel could be converted into housing for the residents of the Merchants.

The Selkirk Avenue hotel is reputed to be the busiest beer vendor in Manitoba. On Sunday night, there was a steady stream of customers on foot and in their vehicles picking up beer before the vendor closed at 7:30 p.m.

Two men working behind the Plexiglas at the vendor said the talk of the Merchants' sale is an old, unsubstantiated rumour. One of them said the owner/manager told them recently it wasn't true.

Getting rid of the Merchants and giving the corner a total makeover was met with mixed reaction Sunday night.

Rather than reducing crime, closing the busy beer vendor may increase crime, some said.

"It's going to bring out more drinking and driving," said Bill Sinclair as he and his cousin Rebecca Sinclair left the vendor on foot with their beer. "Now we've got to go farther," if the Merchants is closed, he said.

"The closest one is the Northern" Hotel on Main Street, said Rebecca Sinclair. She fears having a long way to walk with beer might make her more of a target for thieves. "People will get jumped for their beer," she said.

Word of the Merchants closing was good news for Travis Bighetty, who's in his second year of social work at the campus on Selkirk Avenue down the street.

"I'll be really glad when this place is gone," said Bighetty, who'd just picked up bread and milk from the corner store near the Merchants.

"If I walk by here after 10 o'clock at night, I'm nervous," said the big, burly 31-year-old. There are really good people living in the area but every so often there's trouble, and often it's by the Merchants, Bighetty said.

"I'm not surprised when I see yellow tape around here," Bighetty said on the sidewalk outside the hotel. "It's always one or two people who give it a bad name."

On April 20, 42-year-old Sheila Fontaine was stabbed outside the hotel, the city's ninth homicide of the year. An 18-year-old woman was charged.

In September, 47-year-old Gerald Dumas was set on fire behind the hotel after he went to buy beer. A 19-year-old man was charged in connection with the attack.

In October, three men were charged after three people were robbed of their beer outside the Merchants Hotel.

A 46-year-old man was stabbed on Oct. 6 and robbed of his beer. Two hours later, a group of men pushed a 53-year-old man to the ground and robbed him of his beer. An hour later, four men confronted a 26-year-old man, stabbed and robbed him.

The high-crime area with high rates of poverty is brimming with young people, some of whom aren't afraid to say they don't feel safe.

"I just moved to Winnipeg from Nova Scotia," said Kevin Adams, who was pushing a shopping cart down Andrews Street. "I'm in the wrong place," the hearing-impaired man wrote on a reporter's notepad outside the hotel.

"It's scary," said Robin, 20, who wouldn't give her last name. She was pushing her baby cousin in a stroller briskly past the Merchants with her young sister.

"It's crazy."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 19, 2011 B1

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