Business-owners in the underground concourse lament Portage & Main plebiscite

By Allyn Lyons

Donavan Robinson, owner of Made Here For You, was inspired by Jan Gehl to vote open. As for whether it will affect his business, he believes his store is a destination, and increased traffic shouldn’t make much of a difference. ALLYN LYONS

One may think that opening the Portage and Main intersection to pedestrians would create problems for local businesses in the underground concourse, but the owners of Made Here For You and Thom Bargen both hoped the answer to the October 24 plebiscite would be yes.

Donavan Robinson owns Made Here For You, a store that features a collection of items by Manitoba makers, and believes that cities should be built around people, not cars.

Although Robinson says he was originally on the fence about the decision, he was convinced to vote open after hearing Jan Gehl, an urban design consultant who worked to make Times Square more people-centred, speak about community spaces in cities.

“It’s not just opening it up to walk across, it’s opening it up to have something that we’re proud of,” said Robinson.

As for how opening the intersection could have potentially affected his business, Robinson said he wasn’t concerned that less traffic in the concourse would have hurt sales.

“If you make something cool enough for someone to come down, they’ll come down,” said Robinson. “If traffic is the only reason people are stopping by your store, it’s probably not a good store.”

Robinson says he believes that voters didn’t have enough information, and the decision should have been left up to city planners.

Made Here For You can be found just below the Portage and Main intersection, by the Fairmont Hotel. Every item in the store is created by Manitoban makers. ALLYN LYONS

Thom Hiebert, co-owner and half of the namesake of coffee franchise Thom Bargen, opened a location in the concourse this summer.

He says he believed the concourse was a good place to be, regardless of how the vote turned out, but for personal reasons, he hoped Winnipeg would open the intersection.

“What’s good for Winnipeg is good for me,” said Hiebert.

While he and his business partner Graham Bargen were looking into opening a location in the concourse, the idea that a successful open vote might affect their business crossed their minds, but they believed it was a good location either way.

Hiebert says people are habitual, and the concourse will always serve a purpose in Winnipeg whether or not pedestrians are able to cross the intersection.

Hiebert says he hopes mayor Brian Bowman will continue to push opening the intersection and makes opening Portage and Main his legacy.

Thom Hiebert, co-owner of Thom Bargen, wasn’t worried about losing business if Portage and Main opened, but is worried about accessibility in the concourse and the intersection. ALLYN LYONS

He also says the issue closest to his heart is accessibility.

“If you’re in a wheelchair or something, it’s pretty ridiculous what you have to go through to cross a street,” said Hiebert.

He also thinks that the decision should have been left up to city planners.

“If you chose to add 45 seconds to a neighbourhood’s commute, to have a better, more vibrant downtown… that’s an obvious decision,” said Hiebert.

Upon his re-election, Bowman said that while he was “disappointed” by the plebiscite results, he will respect the approximate 65% of voters who elected to keep the intersection closed to pedestrians.