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:
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:
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.
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.