These streets are made for walking Exchange District businesses banking on more foot traffic to boost business and feeling of safety

In a row: a couple of “for lease” posters and a boarded-up window.

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In a row: a couple of “for lease” posters and a boarded-up window.

The Haberdashery’s sign glowed Open despite the lack of glass last week. It’s not closing, though a few neighbours have — the soap store next door, Shop Take Care down the road. FFO Clothing left the Exchange District for all-online sales.

Boutique Anya is likely on its way out, according to owner Alicja Dalecki (though she’s been considering for years).

The Haberdashery will stay, despite recent break-ins, said owner Luke Nolan.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Despite recent break-ins, the Haberdashery will stay open, said owner Luke Nolan.

“We’re feeling a little violated,” Nolan said. “This is our home away from home… it’s like someone breaking into your house.”

He’s sold hats on Albert Street in the Exchange District for 14 years. Once, years ago, someone unsuccessfully tried to break in, Nolan said. That was it, until this month when a couple of illegal acts left him short nearly $1,000 worth of product and with a damaged storefront.

“People, I think, are just hanging on by their nails,” Nolan said, citing many businesses’ decreased revenue over the past two years. “We do need more people in the Exchange.”

Dalecki is watching her peers leave. The lack of foot traffic could be her final straw after pandemic-tinged years of declining revenue and shoppers switching to online purchases.

“There’s just no way to sustain this”–Alicja Dalecki, Boutique Anya owner

“There’s just no way to sustain this,” the shop owner, who has a full-time job elsewhere, said.

Crime is seemingly up, the unhoused population appears to have grown, and foot traffic is not where it was before COVID-19 hit, according to Exchange District entrepreneurs and residents.

Still, nearly everyone the Free Press spoke to expressed optimism about the neighbourhood’s future — they just need more people around.

“There is a better energy in the area,” said Nick Van Seggelen, owner of Bodegoes.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

‘If more people (are) downtown, (it’s) less likely crimes are going to happen,’ says Bodegoes owner Nick Van Seggelen.

The number of lunch and dinner calls isn’t what they were pre-pandemic — maybe 70 per cent — but things became noticeably busier this summer with Exchange District events, Van Seggelen said.

“We’ll have one day where it feels like it’s a really good day, and the next two are back to just getting by,” he said. “It’s tough to plan for and tough to staff for.”

Earlier this month, Bodegoes matched the Haberdashery — Bodegoes had boards replacing glass too, though on its door. Some electronics were smashed during the break-in, Van Seggelen said.

“If more people (are) downtown, (it’s) less likely crimes are going to happen,” he said. “You shine light in the shadows and the shadows disappear.”

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

The more people spend time in the Exchange District during the evenings, the less likely break-ins are to happen, said David Pensato, Executive Director of the Exchange District BIZ.

It’s happening in neighbourhoods throughout the city, noted David Pensato, executive director of the Exchange District BIZ. Stores on McPhillips Street have banded together to address local crime, the Free Press reported in September.

Exchange District BIZ patrols are around most days until midnight, Pensato said.

“Those smashes seem to be happening in the very wee hours of the morning. The more people that are around in the evenings and overnight, the less likely that is to happen,” he said.

Eleven commercial break-and-enter calls for service were made in the Exchange District over the past 10 weeks, according to online police data.

There were 406 non-violent crime incidents in the Exchange District last May, up 31 per cent from the year prior, but down compared to May 2019’s 582 incidents.

There were 406 non-violent crime incidents in the Exchange District last May — up 31 per cent from the year prior, but down compared to May 2019’s 582 incidents.–Winnipeg Police Service

Violent crime in the area decreased year-over-year, per the latest data: the number of incidents in May 2022 was 63, compared to 66 in 2021 (and 80 in 2019).

Less non-violent crime last year is likely due to reduced foot traffic, according to Ally Siatecki, a media-relations assistant with the Winnipeg Police Service.

“I’ve never been worried about my safety,” said Charlotte Enns, who has lived in the Exchange District for seven years.

The number of people now living on the street is notable, she added.

“I don’t think we’re doing a very good job of looking after them,” she said.

Daily visitor foot traffic is increasing, Pensato said. He didn’t have specific numbers. However, the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ tracked an average of 118,230 daily visits downtown during the week ending Sept. 4, up from the 112,015 during the same week last year, but down from 140,899 in 2019.

Sixty-four per cent of workers are in the office at least part-time, up from 47 per cent in March, according to a Probe survey the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ commissioned.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

King + Bannatyne chef Matt Cooney would like to see office-goers eat downtown more frequently.

“(It’s) definitely a new crowd, fresh crowd, as offices are hiring people,” said Matt Cooney, King + Bannatyne’s head chef. “It’s a whole new market of people that we didn’t have.”

Still, he’d like to see more office-goers, and more frequently, he said.

Some, such as Phoebe Pacla-On, have drawn crowds via their online presence. She and the Cake-ology team have fans: customers want photos with them.

“It’s been really nice for people to come in and talk about, ‘Oh, we saw you on Instagram,’” Pacla-On said.

The bakers film videos while making treats.

TikTok has created customers for Tara Davis Studio Boutique, even though Tara Davis has never made a video for the app herself.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Tara Davis, owner of Tara Davis Studio Boutique, believes stores will continue closing downtown, but developments such as Market Lands will help the Exchange District, she said.

“Young people will come in and do a TikTok, and then someone comes in and is like, ‘We saw you on TikTok,’” Davis said. “We’re positioned for (sales) to be the best in 11 years.”

She transformed her McDermot Avenue store’s art corner to a candy shop for her new patrons, loading up on international sweets.

“These people who are coming from the suburbs again, who have seen TikToks and Instagram and stuff are excited about the neighbourhood,” Davis said. “It truly is an exceptional neighbourhood.”

She believes stores will continue closing downtown, in part because of debt, but as developments such as Market Lands, a mixed-use site, open, the Exchange District will thrive.

Greg Tonn, owner of record store Into the Music, also said his Exchange District shop was going through a growth period, largely from a boom in record enthusiasts.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Greg Tonn, owner of record store Into the Music, said his Exchange District shop was going through a growth period, largely from a boom in record enthusiasts.

The days of relying on office workers are gone, said Pamela Hardman, the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ’s marketing director.

“I think it’s really about not leaving (visitation) up to chance and making specific investments,” she said.

An Exchange District development plan, which Winnipeg’s city council adopted in February, outlines building a minimum of 110 residential units in the area by 2030. Increasing neighbourhood amenities, upgrading active transport routes and launching events are among the actions the plan lays out to draw Manitobans.

Nuit Blanche attracted tens of thousands of people downtown this year, Pensato said at a State of Downtown event this week.

The Downtown Winnipeg BIZ Recovery Framework, released in 2021, further identifies ways to revamp the city’s core, including supporting people on the streets via 24-hour safe spaces, among other things.

Elena Dobrowma, a 27-year-old walking through the Exchange on a September afternoon, said she generally considers downtown “sketchy.”

Still, she said she liked the Exchange and would come back.

Hayley Wojcikowski, another Exchange District visitor, said she’s avoiding spending money, but likes the Exchange for nights out.

Economic Development Minister Cliff Cullen pointed to a number of recent government programs aimed at economic recovery, including putting $50 million into a pandemic Long-Term Recovery Fund and $8 million to the Hospitality Relief Sector Program.

He said many Exchange District businesses are eligible for tax credits, and he expects economic activity to increase throughout the province.

gabrielle.piche@winnipegfreepress.com

Gabrielle Piché

Gabrielle Piché
Reporter

Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.

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Updated on Friday, September 30, 2022 9:03 PM CDT: Fixes typos, grammar errors

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