Dominion News to turn its last page Oldest downtown store outlasted Eatons and the Bay but couldn’t compete with the pandemic
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/02/2022 (187 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Dominion News, the oldest continuously operating store on Portage Avenue, will close at the end of the month, just shy of its 100th anniversary.
The magazine and smoke shop that featured more than 200 adult magazine titles and the only peep show operation in town was also, for the longest time, the only place in Winnipeg to buy out-of-town newspapers.
Dominion News outlasted the Bay and Eaton’s. It even withstood competition from Dollarama and Dollar Tree, but could not compete with the pandemic.
“COVID. That’s the reason we’re closing,” said Guy Paquette who bought 50 per cent of the store in 2004 and then the other half in 2012 from Howard Maslove, whose father Herb bought the business in 1968.
“There is nobody downtown,” he said. “This is all about walk-in traffic. When you take 80 per cent of the workers away it pretty much finishes it off.”
Paquette said his plan was to stay open at least until 2024, which would have been the store’s 100th anniversary.
Even while he admits that business was on the decline — what with the internet taking over the porn business as well as the newspaper business — Paquette said, “I can’t remember the last time someone came in asking if we had the Calgary Herald” — there was still enough business to make it sustainable until the pandemic sent everyone home from the office towers.
As well as being the oldest store around, it was also probably the only one that had no web presence.
Paquette admits maybe things might have been different had he taken the initiative and established an online presence but said the store’s offerings — including cannabis paraphernalia such as bongs and pipes and novelty T-shirts — were all skewed to the street traffic trade.
The store may have had a grungy feel to it — there used to be condoms available in vending machines in the gated-off peep show section — but it also had a familiarity to it, a place that had its own particular social vibe.
“I’ve been telling the regular customers that we’re closing and they are not happy,” said Paquette, who admitted tearing up himself just the day before speaking to the Free Press.
Howard Maslove, who also used to own the building on the south side of Portage Avenue where the store has been located since 1999, said even his children are sad it’s closing.
“It was not a happy day when we heard,” he said.
Maslove said his father, Herb, who wore a suit and tie to the store every day, was a dreamer. He opened a second Dominion News further west on Portage Avenue, but it closed when Portage Place opened.
He also had a small chain of mini Dominion News stores called This Is It with locations in Brandon, Selkirk, Osborne Village and Main Street, and he owned the pre-Portage Place pinball arcade operation called Circus Circus.
Maslove said his father noted the irony long after his retirement of how porn had become more socially acceptable than cigarette smoking.
But at the same time, he said he understands that business has dried up.
“The one thing about Dominion News, it always needed the (office) towers,” Maslove said. “We had to be close to the (Portage and Main) towers for it to work. As soon as the towers lost 80 per cent of the people it was only a matter of time.”
It’s a familiar refrain.
“Since the invention of the internet and the smartphone there were no teenagers coming in looking at music magazines and comic books. No one was taking the bus from Riverbend to buy a bong at Dominion News.” – Guy Paquette
A report released by Downtown BIZ in July tallied up more than 2,000 retail jobs that have been eliminated and more than 80 per cent of downtown storefronts had decreased revenues with street traffic down by more than 50 per cent.
Kate Fenske, the CEO of Downtown BIZ, sent a sad face emoji in response to a query about her thoughts on the store’s closing
While Dominion News may have felt like a place where time stood still, it was eventually caught up in every conceivable competitive trap in addition to the pandemic.
The fact that it was not online was not necessarily the end of the world — people are not likely to buy a pack of cigarettes and a magazine online.
The internet took out the newspaper demand and then the porno business. Paquette said the cheapest pack of smokes he sold was $14, but he always heard about contraband cigarettes selling on the street for $5. Even the $2.50 bottles of Pepsi weren’t selling out of his vending machine with Dollarama selling them for $1 down the street.
The proliferation of slick new cannabis stores also stole Dominion News’ head-shop business.
Paquette said it became an older person’s store.
“Since the invention of the internet and the smartphone there were no teenagers coming in looking at music magazines and comic books. No one was taking the bus from Riverbend to buy a bong at Dominion News,” he said.
It ended up being just the older usual customers for whom “turning pages is their thing” was the way Paquette put it.
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.
Updated on Wednesday, February 9, 2022 7:35 PM CST: fixes typos