The closure of the downtown Bay hurts more that I imagined it would.
It seems silly to write that sentence, considering that I am mourning the loss of a department store. But, like so many other Winnipeggers, a little piece of my life and some of my greatest memories are cemented in that old building.
I admit I haven’t stepped foot in the Bay for more than a year. The last time I was there I distinctly remember being swept with a wave of sad nostalgia because it was empty and I felt like I was wandering through the brittle old concrete bones of a fallen monument.
She didn’t mess around when it came to Breakfast with Santa. Year after year she was determined to secure a prime spot for us to enjoy that magical hour that included a cold breakfast, children’s entertainment, and at the very end, a candy–cane wielding Santa Claus.
When I was a child, we used to go to Breakfast with Santa at the Bay downtown every Christmas. It was one of the happy spots that my mom had preserved from her childhood and passed on to us. We would get there early and stand in a long line that stretched outside the Paddlewheel Restaurant on the sixth floor, for what felt like an eternity.
My mother would have at least two kids, but probably all three of us leaning on her and moaning that it was taking forever. Then, when it seemed like our legs were going to fall off from standing for so long, they would open the doors and the mass of people would flood in, clamouring to get to the best tables closest to the stage.
My mom was one of those people.
She didn’t mess around when it came to Breakfast with Santa. Year after year she was determined to secure a prime spot for us to enjoy that magical hour that included a cold breakfast, children’s entertainment, and at the very end, a candy-cane wielding Santa Claus. She would grip our chubby little hands tightly, weaving in and out of groups of people while our short legs frantically jogged beside her trying to keep up. Without fail or hesitation she would always succeed in her mission, and we would have the best seats in the house.
When I was a young adult, I’d often pick up my Amma (which is Icelandic for grandma) and we’d go to the Bay because it was her favourite place.
This was one of our family’s biggest outings of the year, if not the biggest. As a wide-eyed kid who seldom ate at restaurants, the Paddlewheel was the classiest, fanciest place I’d ever been to. It makes me laugh now, but back then it seemed lavish. I think what really did it for me was the fact there was an actual paddlewheel turning in water and a mural of a meadow painted on the wall. The space was vast and bursting with people.
After Breakfast with Santa was over, we’d file out and disperse into the Bay, feeling full and happy. We’d make a racket while marching to the elevator, filled with excitement as we headed to the toy floor. This was the cherry on the sundae of a perfect morning. The elevator doors would open, inviting us into a beautifully decorated Christmas wonderland.
One of my parents, usually my dad, would venture off for a few secretive moments of solo Christmas shopping, and my sisters and I would stay put exploring the aisles of toys.
When we outgrew that tradition, I still found myself wandering back to the Bay downtown every now and again. Sometimes, I would pop in while waiting for a bus. Other times, I’d make my way there to shop in the cosmetics department, or to browse through the basement clearance centre after indulging in a chocolate malt.
When I was a young adult, I’d often pick up my Amma (which is Icelandic for grandma) and we’d go to the Bay because it was her favourite place. Sometimes we had a reason for going, like she needed to get her watch battery replaced, or she wanted to buy perfume. Other times we went there just because.
Amma loved the Bay, and I loved how such a small thing, like wandering around an old department store could make her so happy. She would tell me and every associate that she encountered how her first job was in the hosiery department at that store, and she would marvel at how much it had changed from those days.
After shopping, she always treated me to a meal at the Paddlewheel Restaurant. By then the room was sparse, and it no longer seemed lavish. It was dimly lit, adorned with outdated furniture and decor, and the food was just OK. But, we never went for the food so much as we went because it was convenient and had become our lunch place out of default.
It was different place. Time and my grown-up perspective had changed it. With every visit I felt a twang of remorse and sadness, because it was such a blatant reminder of how nothing ever stays the same.