Why everyone wants to set up shop in Winnipeg

The city is hosting a retail boom led by big box stores

When major American retailers set their sights on Canada, Winnipeg isn’t typically the first place they look. But lately, the city has been in the midst of a retail-building and jobs frenzy driven mostly by international big box stores like Ikea, Wal-Mart and Target.

Last week, executives from Target flew to Winnipeg to scout out the location for four new stores in Manitoba as part of its Canadian launch next year. The company plans to hire 800 workers across Manitoba, and in Winnipeg, Target is in talks to become the flagship tenant in a retail complex planned on the site of the Canad Inns Stadium, home to the Blue Bombers. Meanwhile, Ikea announced it will hire 300 workers for a new store in a 1.5-million-sq.-foot retail development in Winnipeg. There’s talk that home hardware store Lowe’s is planning to open next to Ikea, and the development has also attracted Cabela’s, a major U.S. outdoor store that until recently had just three stores in Canada (one of them in Winnipeg).

Ikea’s announcement touched off a storm of retail development, says Chuck Davidson, vice-president with the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce. The company’s tendency to locate stores in major urban centres signalled to U.S. retailers that Winnipeg has grown enough to support more big box stores.

Winnipeg’s retail boom is part of a much larger retail expansion across Canada, most of it driven by major U.S. brands in search of new markets eyeing Canada’s comparatively strong economy. Wal-Mart plans to hire 4,000 people as part of its $750-million expansion. Toronto’s Yorkdale shopping centre is undergoing a $220-million expansion this year that will debut several new U.S. brands, including Kate Spade and Ann Taylor.

Davidson says Winnipeg retailers were worried the new federal rules that raised the duty-free limits for cross-border shopping would harm local businesses. But instead, the rules seem to have signalled to American retailers that Canadian shoppers are anxious to spend. “People often want to go to Grand Forks or Fargo [in North Dakota] to go to Ikea and Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works,” he says. “We’re going to have them all here soon.”