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This article was published 26/10/2016 (1628 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Two new homegrown retailers have opened in the downtown in time for the Christmas shopping season, and two others who gave the downtown a try over the summer are also giving it another go.
The four — a clothing store, a reclaimed-wood furniture maker, an art gallery and a photo studio — are the latest participants in CentreVenture Development Corporation’s two-year-old Pop Up Shop Hop (PUSH) program.
Funded by CentreVenture and the Manitoba government, the program pairs up-and-coming local entrepreneurs with vacant downtown storefronts on a short-term, low-rent basis. The aim is to breathe new life into the spaces, give the retailers a chance to test out the downtown market and, hopefully, draw more shoppers to the downtown.
It’s also hoped the pop-up-shop experience will lead to longer-term downtown lease deals for some of the participating retailers and property owners, which is what has happened in at least four cases.
Two of the new PUSH program participants — Living Edge Handcrafted Furnishings and Robert Lowdon Gallery — are sharing a large storefront at 389 Graham Ave. The other two — Friday Knights Clothing and Josiah Galleries — are sharing a former bridal-salon space at 433 Graham Ave.
Living Edge owner Ryan Henderson uses salvaged wood, including trees that have been cut down, to create one-of-a-kind furniture. Many of his creations incorporate the rough edges and characteristics of the original tree in the design and include dining room tables, coffee tables, sofa tables, side tables, end tables and benches.
Photographic artist Robert Lowdon specializes in commercial, product, event, portrait and landscape photography. His photographs have been sold through the Winnipeg Art Gallery and his corporate clients include a variety of local businesses and government organizations.
This is the first stab at running a bricks-and-mortar store for both Henderson and Lowdon, who are celebrating their store’s grand opening this Thursday evening.
Both are hoping the two-and-a-half-month tenure in the PUSH incubator space will be successful, and provide the boost they need to open their own downtown store, hopefully on Graham Avenue.
"I feel like Graham is really coming back," Lowdon said. "A couple of years ago, it seemed like it was not all that nice an area. But now, with Hydro (the Manitoba Hydro office tower) here, the pedestrian traffic is really coming back."
Friday Knights owner Eric Olek and Josiah Gallery owner Josiah Koppanyi are also impressed with what’s happening on Graham Avenue these days.
Prior to enrolling in the PUSH program, Olek and Koppanyi shared one of the Downtown Winnipeg Business Improvement Zone’s Launch It! incubator spaces at the corner of Portage Avenue and Carlton Street (the former Warehouse One store) for three months this past summer.
They said being in the Graham Avenue transit mall is even better than being on Portage Avenue because of all the pedestrian traffic and some of the other local retailers now on the street. Examples they cited were Thom Bargen Coffee & Tea, Bison Books, The Urban Bakery and the Verde Plant Design.
"It’s places like that that are revitalizing the (Graham Avenue) strip and bringing more people to the area," Koppanyi said.
He added that he and Olek are also hoping that when their stint in the PUSH program ends, they can open their own shared space somewhere on Graham Avenue, and if not there, then somewhere else in the downtown.
Johanna Chabluk, the development officer with CentreVenture who works closely with the PUSH participants, said the agency was pleased to find two private landlords on Graham Avenue who were willing to participate in the program.
"There is so much potential for Graham Avenue to be a kind of eclectic shopping street that has that nice feel to it...," she said.
"For a while it was all bridal salons and eye-glass shops, which is fine. But now we’re getting a bit more variety and diversity in the shops, and we think these local vendors are very good."
Stefano Grande, executive director of the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ, said when the city created the Graham Avenue transit mall about 20 years ago, it hoped the increased pedestrian traffic would help to revitalize the street as a downtown retail destination.
While it’s been a slow process, momentum is starting to build, he said. And the area will receive another big boost when the $400-million True North Square office/retail/residential/hotel development is completed in a couple of years.
"It’s the density that’s going to lead to the revitalization of the Graham mall. Once these little clusterings of retail shops starts picking up some pace, you’ll start to see Winnipeggers start to come out to take a look at what’s happening in the same way we’ve seen the Exchange District come to life," he said.
"It’s also a very walkable area. It just feels nice. The scale is a little bit smaller. You’re not overpowered by these tall buildings like you are on Portage Avenue," he added.
He said the storefront spaces also tend to be smaller, which makes them more affordable for smaller local retailers.
"Less square feet means less rent."