Mar 122011

Oh look Winnipeg, another store opened today!

And as you can see from my grainy Blackberry pic, it was utter madness inside Polo Park Mall, where over 1,000 people piled in starting at 2 a.m. for the privilege of being, uh, the first 1,000 people allowed in our mammoth new Forever 21:  

This line stretched from where the Safeway used to be, all the way to the Bay. THE BAY.

We’ve had a lot of Big Store Openings, and announcements of future Big Store Openings, in the last year, haven’t we?  

And every time, some Winnipeggers get pumped.

And when some Winnipeggers get pumped, other Winnipeggers get understandably disappointed. All this fuss for a store opening? How embarassing. How utterly ridiculous and very, well, Winnipeg of us. Right?

Well, maybe not.

The excitement over coming retail attractions is a reaction I understand, if only because I jumped up and down when I learned we were getting BCBG Max Azria and did a twirl around my desk when I heard about Forever 21. I almost lost my mind when I heard we were getting a Sephora, which has turned into the delicious bane of my existence. And if anyone tells me we’re getting a Betsey Johnson? I will probably collapse and land gently on a pillowy rainbow of joy.

This is generally seen as a sign of Winnipeg’s backwaterness, but I’m not so sure.

In a society as aggressively consumerist as ours is, there is immense value in having access to the goods. That is basically, after all, what consumerism is all about: get that stuff. And since consumerism is aggressively hierarchical — the It Jean, the It Bag, the It Soap — it’s not just any goods we want to have access to. 

No, we especially crave the goods that everyone else wants… and are subconsciously pretty darn aware of what we can’t get.  (Online shopping has made that playing field a bit more level, but only a bit. Consider how many people still go on full-blown vacations to Vancouver, Minneapolis, Toronto or New York primarily to go shopping, and you’ll see that online stores haven’t flattened the hierarchy of consumer acquisitions.)  

From the outside, famous brands move into Winnipeg because of corporate expansion strategies — nothing more, nothing less. To the corporation, we are far from special. But from the inside, to groups attracted to and by the brand, having that brand at home does make us special. It makes us special to the other markets that don’t have one.

In short: to Winnipeg, and Winnipeggers, a new hot store arrival isn’t just a corporate expansion strategy. It’s an invitation to the in-crowd. And an awful lot of people want to be included in the in-crowd.

No matter where you live, that effect makes the arrival of a new brand just feel like something worth celebrating, when it’s relevant to your particular lifestyle.

Besides, huge crowds for hip store openings is not solely a Winnipeg phenomenon, or even a mid-level market phenomenon. In Tokyo, 5,000 people swarmed the opening of an H&M. Obviously, that’s a much smaller scale, per capita, than Winnipeg’s Forever 21 turnout - but again, that was freakin’ Tokyo, the city from which all street fashion flows.

Are there better things we could be putting our energy into? Yes. But what nobody ever mentions is that there are also worse things we could be putting our energy into… and besides, what few engage in their criticism of store-opening hijinks is that when hot brands show up in Winnipeg, it can mean a nice little boost to our economy.

Not only does it mean that people from nearby provinces and rural areas might come to Winnipeg to shop instead of Calgary, Minneapolis or… wherever — and Polo Park manager Deborah Green believes the addition could attract American shoppers - but it keeps more Winnipeg cash in the city too.

I talked to a few people in line today who regularly went to Minneapolis just for Forever 21; now, that cash mostly stays in Winnipeg. When I know I’m going to be travelling, I save up to drop big bucks at Betsey Johnson and H&M — bring those here, and I wouldn’t be so moved to put my cash into travel and shopping elsewhere.

At least, not until the next hot brand that we don’t have happens.

So yeah, I get the store-opening hype — and I sort of like it. Party on, you crazy shoppers. Party on.

On that note, why not open it up for a little show’n'tell of stores I hope come here, and will promptly join the hordes of cheers for. Feel free to add your own to the list:

1. H&M

Cheap chic icon. The designs have rapidly became sort of limp and disappointing, especially in terms of quality - but their designer collabs are still fab, and there are still lots of gems to be found on their shelves.

2. Topshop

The Bay just landed the rights to it, so they are bringing it to Canada, starting with mini-shops within Bay stores — though whether or not that includes Winnipeg is yet to be seen. Whatever, I’ll take it. It’s not quite cheap-chic — sort of a Le Chateau price range - but Topshop carries much more striking styles.  

3. Betsey Johnson

I’m not holding out much hope. Forever 21′s pricing is a natural in the bargain-friendly Winnipeg market; Betsey Johnson’s price points are, um, not. (That dress will be mine, also.) But Betsey is incredible. Her tailoring is to die for, hugging and shaping the body without squeezing it. The clothes are feminine and flirty with just the right amount of edge. They’re also unapologetically retro, so any classic Betsey piece will never really go out of style.

4. John Fluevog Shoes

It won’t happen. Fluevog stores are fairly restricted to high-end markets. But it should, because I happen to know approximately a zillion Fluevog fans in Winnipeg who would take out a second credit card to keep that store close to home. Including me.

  • cherenkov

    Banana Republic. This will probably come with that Ikea development. I like BR.

    Zara. Maybe? I think there’s a good chance. Love that they have “slim” options for many of their guys shirts .. even t-shirts.

    UNIQLO. Highly unlikely, but got some nice shirts there. Would love to see it.

    Celio Inconceivable, but would be super cool.

  • Melissa

    Oooh, stylin.

  • W. Krawec

    What I find interesting is how so much of a brand’s allure seems to fade away once an outlet is opened in Winnipeg.

    I remember in my university days a decade ago when friends going to Minneapolis, Vancouver or wherever would load up on stuff from MEC, Old Navy, Lush or whatever happened to be hot at the time. Then after the initial rush of euphoria following the opening of the Winnipeg location, those places quickly became “just another store”.*

    (* Except Lululemon, for some reason. That place still seems to command quite a following.)

  • Melissa

    I think once you have sufficient access to something, the novelty wears off and you start looking ahead to the next item — and takes away a bit of its allure. To quote Zac Posen, “rarity is the definition of luxury.” Over the long run, though, I suspect that all of those “just another stores” do eventually conspire to make people fundamentally more comfortable in Winnipeg, especially ones that dominate a specific niche, a la Lululemon. I’d put Sephora and probably the Apple Store on that list too.

    Funny you should mention Old Navy, ’cause I have to say that’s one brand that I never understood the hype about. A fine example of a brand that became popular on the strength only of an ad campaign, I think. Hollister too. Forever 21 has a great concept and will play really well in this market, so I think it’ll be much beloved for a long while yet.

  • Colin

    “There are worse things we could put our energy into…”


    Is that the yardstick now, Winnipeg? Maybe so.

    I dunno, I don’t shop for clothes (a fact sadly apparent just looking at me) so maybe this logic escapes me. I’ve never heard of this store prior to this media collaboration…err, article.

  • Melissa

    You’re not a 15-year-old girl. And as you know, wherever there’s 1,000 screaming teenagers, there will be a photographer and a reporter. This economy is driven by screaming teenagers… their interests are as relevant as they are mystifying!

    What I meant more by the other comment is I find the gripe I heat often that there are so many better things to put one’s energy into sort of… exasperating in many contexts. (A few exceptions, most of them political.) No, it’s not doing any altruistic good for the world, but at the end of the day hype over a new store arrival is a pretty innocuous thing, and I don’t find it useful to rain on that parade. We’re humans. Sometimes we get really happy over things that don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. I say, enjoy the vibe — I like it when people are happy!

  • John Dobbin

    Excitement about certain retail concepts is not exclusive to small cities. I can remember when I lived in Japan and Virgin Records opened their new stories. It was hysteria.

    From a purely economic standpoint, retail stores that open in the city can be helpful in attracting and retaining people and their purchasing power.

    Perhaps if there were more people in the economic development offices who had a shopping list of retailers that they could bring home, things would be better for city and province. I’m afraid though that the prevailing attitude might be ignorance of current fashionable stores or worse, a thought that they don’t matter.

    They do matter even if some people don’t understand or care.

  • Melissa

    Aye. It seems like the malls (Polo Park especially) fulfill that in an unofficial way — but yeah, I wonder what other ways people with clout approach and/or interest burgeoning brands, or what ways they could be doing it.

    I’m going to bet $20 that we see an H&M at the IKEA complex. I’d actually think it would be a great fit for downtown, but unless something changes down there relatively quickly I imagine it’ll go into the IKEA space.

  • cherenkov

    Not that stylin’. Just hard to fit.

  • Daryl

    “The Art of Shaving” I got hooked on this line of shaving products in Las Vegas. This is a metropolitan-area only brand that also distributes its products through boutiques like Edward Carrier Salon on Broadway & Spence, and vendors like Sephora. The problem is that the stuff is overpriced at EC, and Sephora can’t stock it (although there is space for it on the shelves). Polo Park could use an official “Art of Shaving” store.
    Lowes - There aren’t very many guy stores left that we don’t already have or are getting soon… Ikea, Cabelas, Best Buy are the big ones. I’d like to see more hardware stores like Lowes to keep Home Depot and Rona on their toes.
    B&H photo - or any other national camera gear retailer with massive buying power.