The impending departure of Tiny Feast is the latest in a series of upsets in the Exchange District in recent years — and its neighbours are left questioning their futures in the city’s vibrant arts and culture hub unless parking rules and attitudes change.
Posted: 04/11/2019 7:00 PM
Winnipeg's newest large company is moving into its newest downtown office tower.
Skipthedishes, the Winnipeg-based food delivery/technology company, has signed a lease for four-and-a-half floors of True North Square's office tower for occupancy Dec. 1, 2020.
The owner of the gift shop on McDermot Avenue announced on Instagram Monday the shop would be closed at the end of the holiday season so the owner could "make space for new endeavours." The reasons are personal, the owner said in a message to the Free Press, before declining an interview.
The announcement came on the heels of Winnipeg-based Skip the Dishes announcing the company is moving its headquarters from the East Exchange to True North Square.
While neither company cited concerns about parking fees or the installation of bike lanes over the last two years as reasons for their departures, neighbouring business owners said both have shifted attitudes about the Exchange District in recent years to make the Exchange’s parking seem inaccessible and limited. In turn, contributing to declining profits for some by 20 per cent or more.
"I lived off that 20 per cent. Without that 20 per cent, unless something changes, I will have to close, which is really sad," said Tara Davis, the namesake of Tara Davis Studio Boutique, located steps away from Tiny Feast in the heart of the Exchange.
Davis said her business has suffered losses since the street parking fees increased to $3.50 an hour and the McDermot Avenue bike lane took away her accessible parking, which allowed clients with mobility challenges and parents with strollers to park right outside her store. The changes were implemented about two years ago.
Lennard Taylor, who owns a design studio next door, said he too will have to consider whether or not he wants to stick around when his lease is up in a couple of years. Sales are "way down," since the "triple whammy" of bike lanes, an increase in parking fees and ongoing construction, he said.
Taylor said his business now relies on tourists more than local residents — something he attributes to Winnipeggers’ unwillingness to walk a few blocks due to parking changes.
"We’ve always had the designation of a city, but we’ve never had to act like a city," he said.
"You don’t expect to go to Calgary and park right in front of where you want to go, it’s just not a thing. Same with Edmonton, same problem. It’s time that Winnipeggers realize that we’re now a city ... We can support a hockey team, we can support local businesses and we can support walking two blocks."
Business owners have also voiced concerns about being subject to an extra "tax" for setting up shop downtown since there is free street parking in areas on Corydon Avenue and Osborne Street.
David Pensato with the Exchange District BIZ said Tuesday he’s aware parking has been a longtime concern for entrepreneurs in the area, which is why the BIZ continues to have conversations with the city about a city-wide parking review. There needs to be a "proper unified vision" when designing parking policies in the city, Pensato said.
A City of Winnipeg spokesperson said Tuesday the downtown bike lanes were designed to maintain as much on-street parking and loading as possible. With that in mind, the city added additional back-in, angled parking spots on nearby streets to offset the loss of some spots, the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson added council has directed the parking authority to undertake an analysis of current rates, including consultation with stakeholders.
East of Main Street, U.N. Luggage co-owner Jon Thiessen agreed a negative shift in the Exchange has been felt by all due to a parking fare hike and traffic flow changes as a result of the bike lanes.
"There are a lot of retailers that are disappearing, due to pressures, whether it’s Amazon, whether it’s parking, whether it’s traffic flow around downtown. But consider your local retailer, if you like on-street shopping and if you like specialty stores and you like well-curated boutiques, they don’t survive without your dollars being spent there," Thiessen said.
Despite the changes, Thiessen said he has no plans on moving after 80 years of the store in the Exchange. With the holiday season ahead, he encourages Winnipeggers to support businesses in the neighbourhood.
— With files from Ben Waldman
Maggie is a cub reporter who covers every beat in the newsroom. She appreciates alliteration, when newspaper ink stains her fingertips and, more importantly, tips on social and environmental equity issues.