Local bargain hunters can breathe easier.
Although Liquidation World's U.S. parent announced in December it was shutting down all 78 of its Canadian stores, including the ones here in Manitoba, another out-of-province discount retail chain is stepping in to help fill the void.
Calgary-based Bianca Amor's Liquidation Supercentre quietly opened a nearly 50,000-square-foot store during the weekend in the former Cabela's location at 1300 Ellice Ave.
Launched in 1999 by 13-year-old entrepreneur Bianca Amor Wakeford (with the help of her parents), Bianca Amor's purchases factory overuns and discontinued, close-out and end-of-season products from manufacturers all over Asia, Canada and the United States and sells them to the public at deeply discounted prices.
"We kind of buy from everywhere. Wherever the best deals are," Wakeford explained in an interview late last week as she and her staff scrambled to get the new store ready for Saturday's soft opening.
"We're kind of like a department store but really cheap."
She said the kinds of products the Winnipeg store carries include clothing and accessories, health and beauty products, jewelry, toys, electronics, kitchen and houseware products, tools, sport and outdoor goods, paint and automotive supplies.
"We also sell a ton of area rugs," Wakeford added.
She said products range in price from as little as 10 cents to as much as $500, with discounts as high as 80 to 90 per cent off the suggested retail price.
Although Wakeford has 11 other Bianca Amor's stores in Western Canada, this is her first in Manitoba.
And because it's considerably bigger than any of her other stores, it will likely be the only one she opens here.
"I have a feeling people here will be willing to drive (a distance) for a deal, so we're just going to focus on having one big, killer store," she said.
Steven Paulus, who along with fellow Avison Young agent Jamie Petrie helped Wakeford find the Ellice Avenue location, said she looked at several other sites in the Polo Park area before settling on the former Cabela's site. And Wakeford said she's glad she waited.
"It's a really nice, big, open space to work with."
Paulus and Shindico Realty Inc.'s Michael Stronger, who was the listing agent for the property, said the Polo Park area is an ideal location for a retailer that plans to have just one outlet in the city.
"It's centrally located," Paulus explained. "People from the north (end of the city) will go there and people from the south (end) will come there as well."
He and Stronger said having a Walmart Supercentre and the Polo Park Shopping Centre close by also doesn't hurt.
"That (the Polo Park mall) is a draw in itself," Paulus added.
Stronger said Shindico, which manages the building on behalf of the local family that owns it, is excited to have Bianca Amor's as a tenant.
"She (Wakeford) is extremely savvy, an excellent buyer and a great marketer. We anticipate her doing exceptionally well."
Wakeford is equally optimistic about the prospects for her new store.
"We've always heard good things about the market here in Winnipeg. We heard people here really like a good deal, so it just seems like a good fit (for a discount retail outlet like Bianca Amor's)."
Stronger and Wayne Johnson, a commercial real estate agent with Royal LePage Dynamic Real Estate and author of the twice-yearly Johnson Report on commercial sales and leasing activity in Winnipeg, said larger retail spaces such as 1300 Ellice can be a challenge to backfill.
Stronger said there were a number of other prospective tenants that looked at the building, but couldn't make the size work.
"There were some that needed more (square footage) and some that needed less. And it couldn't be subdvided because of the shape."
He and Johnson noted there are a number of other larger retail properties in the city that have been vacant for some time because the right-sized tenant hasn't been found.
They include the former Future Shop outlet on Regent Avenue, two former Office Depot locations on Pembina Highway and in Madison Square on Ness Avenue, and two former Zeller's stores on Pembina and on McPhillips Street.
Johnson said the fact tenants haven't yet been found for some of these larger properties is one of the reasons why Winnipeg's overall retail vacancy rate has been creeping up in the last couple of years.
It's gone from 3.3 per cent at the end of 2011 to 4.3 per cent at the end of 2013. That's the highest it's been since 2005, when it was also 4.3 per cent, he added.
"But any time you have a vacancy rate of five per cent, you're doing quite well," he said, noting Winnipeg's overall office and industrial vacancy rates are both higher than that.
"So my take on that is that the retail market is still doing great. It's just not doing super-fantastic."
Johnson said he also expects the retail vacancy rate to remain fairly stable in 2014.
"You look at the economy and it's telling you it's just more of the same."
Know of any newsworthy or interesting trends or developments in the local office, retail, or industrial real estate sectors? Let real estate reporter Murray McNeill know at the email address below, or at 204-697-7254.