Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/3/2008 (4192 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
But if you ask Holly McNally, the Polo Park move kind of landed in their lap.
"When Cadillac Fairview and good a strong regional mall reaches out to you, you don't say no," she said. "We get maybe two or three calls from realtors and developers every week all over the country. We say no, no, no. And then something hits the radar and you say yes. Your instinct says this is the one to go for." With its distinctive two-storey glass facade and signage now prominent on what used to be a plain brick wall down the west side of Polo Park, McNally Robinson is helping to create a second front entrance for the mall facing St. James Street.
"We're thrilled to have McNally Robinson," said Deborah Green, general manager of Polo Park. "We knew we wanted a bookstore. The demographics match, they get beautiful exposure and everything lined up at the right time."
Nonetheless, Holly said it was also the most challenging space for the family enterprise to manage.
Five days before the April 1 opening Holly, husband and partner Paul McNally and daughter Tory were in the midst of the cacophany of construction activity with at least two dozen tradesmen tinkering with the escalators, plastering walls and installing fixtures. To the pedestrian observer, the 21,000-square-foot space, formerly occupied by Sports Chek, looked weeks, not days away from being ready.
"Paul always plans parties for the opening so that we have to be sure we're finished," she said.
It is the first of seven stores the couple has built for which they've used professional designers. In the past they have muddled through the challenge of picking colours, carpets and fixtures on their own.
Tory McNally, 29 and the heir apparent to the family business, said, "One thing we have learned a huge amount about is lighting. In this store there will be a light every three feet. It makes a huge difference to the way the space is."
The store will have its CD department on the first floor at the mall entrance and then escalators will take shoppers into the main book department. At the western side of the store, back up on street level, is the Polo Park store's version of the Prairie Ink restaurant. (The store will have elevators at both sides.)
At 78 seats, the restaurant will be about two-thirds the size of the Grant Park store's restaurant.
"The restaurant is a huge part of what we do," Tory said. "Events are a huge parts of what we do and it (the restaurant) being a location for events was the first reason for even having them (restaurants)."
The inspiration for the concept — a large, comfortable bookstore that hosts daily book launches, literary events and concerts featuring a full-service, high-quality restaurant, enhanced children's book and music departments with informed, well-paid staff — came from their first small store at Grant and Kenaston that was opened in 1981.
"At that little store people would come in, especially on Sundays, and meet neighbours and have long conversation in the aisles," Holly said. "But there was no room and we didn't stay open late."
Their idea was to create what they call a third place — not a bar, not an institutional setting, but something else.
It has turned into a booming business — the new store will have about 60 employees — and may be part of a mini-revival of the independent bookstore.
Susan Dayus, executive director of the Canadian Bookseller Association, said there was a definite drop in independent bookstores 10 years ago with the advent of the big box stores and discounters like Wal-Mart and Costco stocking books.
"But we have seen a levelling off and now when one store closes another opens," she said.
Even in Winnipeg, the quality downtown used bookstore, Aqua Books, is moving to a new location south of Portage Avenue keen to fill the void the closure of McNally's Portage Place store may create. It will even have its own cafe.
But all the same, the Chapters/Indigo/Coles chain accounts for 60 to 70 per cent of book sales in the country.
Some believe the fact that McNally Robinson is moving into Chapters turf (Chapters has a store on Empress Street on the other side of the mall) will not lead to head-to-head competition.
"I think Chapters and McNally Robinson service different markets," said Rob Warren, director of the Asper Centre for Entrepreneurship. "McNally's seems to cater to people who are interested in reading with a particular focus on Canadian and local content. Chapters seems to cater to the general reader and people looking for gifts."
Where are the other McNally Robinson stores? The flagship store is in the Grant Park Shopping Centre. It has another big store in Saskatoon and will open its first Toronto store in Don Mills in the spring of 2009. Its Calgary store is closing in August and its Portage Place store closed earlier this month. Daughter Sarah McNally owns a bookstore in New York called McNally Robinson (soon to be re-named McNally Jackson).
What other new stores have recently opened in Polo Park? The final phases of Polo Park's $30 million renovations are nearing completion. In addition to McNally Robinson, new stores in the mall include Cultures, Dolce Vita, Hugo Boss, Rocky Mountain Soap Company, Silverstone and Jersey City.