“We’re obviously very concerned about the public perception,” says Paul MacKinnon, director of the Downtown Business Commission, though he is all about the silver lining in the dark cloud. “We’re seeing this in a way that could potentially be very positive. In both of those cases [Carsand and CD Plus] it’s the operator of the businesses that owns the building and they’re selling the building, which is what we foresaw with HRM by Design and the Heritage District.” MacKinnon says with key properties on Barrington due for upgrades, including these two specifically, new ownership can only mean new investment in the street as a whole. “For a long, long time we had property owners on the street that had buildings that were assets…but weren’t necessarily putting a lot of money back into them,” he says. “But the fact the buildings are changing hands, we don’t see that as a sign the area is not being viable. It’s quite the opposite… people wanting to invest in the street. It’s not a big fire sale.” MacKinnon will concede that ground-floor retail in those buildings needs to happen for the street to recover. “If they just buy those buildings and just sit on them, that’s going to be bad for the street.”
CD Plus vice president of sales Dave Bially, contacted by Shoptalk at his Winnipeg office last week to comment on the closing, did respond to our inquiry. “Our reason for closing the store was mainly based on the drop in foot traffic on Barrington Street,” he writes in an email. “We still have many stores in other parts of Canada that are successful because of the large walk by traffic…we hope that the right changes come to the street to make it a success again.” He adds, “We have been looking for a new location in the Halifax area, but have nothing confirmed at this time.”
“I wouldn’t say that the pedestrian traffic is down,” says MacKinnon, offering as an example Peep Show and Freak Lunchbox (1723 Barrington Street, 405-4052) both owned by Erin and Jeremy Smith, right beside each other and getting the same foot traffic. "Freak Lunchbox, I think they determined it’s the most successful candy store in Canada, while Peep Show, they had to close. You get very different stories talking to different retailers.”
To complicate matters further, a fight is brewing between retailers in the ‘hood. Mountain Equipment Co-Op (1550 Granville Street, 421-2667) intends on offering its in-house brand of bicycles from its store, likely by the fall. Though manager Denise McDonald says the goal isn’t to create competition but to serve and grow the marketplace, Idealbikes owner Dave Schuhlein is more concerned about their potential bicycle servicing cutting into his business. “Our bread and butter is bicycle repairs,” says Schuhlein. As a result, he intends to offer 10 percent off all MEC service quotes. “I’m also going to start selling used outdoor gear,” opening Idealbikes Bargain Basement, to “offset the seasonal aspect of the bike business.” Look for used tents, summer and winter camping gear and more to soon be available at Idealbikes.
“Certainly we don’t discourage individual competition,” says MacKinnon. “In many ways that’s healthy. If someone’s coming down to MEC to look at bikes, maybe they’ll actually bring more people to Idealbikes.”