Losing our home?

Local folks may now have heard the news that our market hall is threatened with closure. Centennial Market sprang up nearly three years ago when the Sears Outlet Store closed down. The market manager formed an agreement with the property managers so that the market could exist in the huge empty space while they tried to sell the building. Since then, it has grown from 30-odd temporary vendors to 150+ vendors, most with their own little storefronts. This benefits everyone because having the building occupied and maintained by the market makes the whole area safer than leaving a giant building empty like that. Yes, we always knew the building was up for sale, and yes, we are not formally leasing the space. This means we are in a very precarious position.

Here’s Chrysta and the Leader Post’s story:
Centennial Market ponders future

Photo from The Leader Post

We are not trying to stop the owners selling their building! We remain extremely grateful to the owners and the property management agency that the market formed at all. The concern lies with who wants to buy the building – it is destined to become self-storage units. 140,000 square feet of space, right in the middle of Regina’s Warehouse District (an area which is supposed to be undergoing ‘redevelopment’ and ‘revitalisation’ anyway, with endeavours to make it more walkable, pedestrian-friendly and so on too) – now designated to become somewhere where people pay to Not-Use their stuff. Really, what effect is that going to have on the neighbourhood?

I went to City Hall’s rezoning and planning commission meeting last week, and with a few others from Centennial Market, we tried to make impassioned, yet practical pleas to stop the rezoning for storage going ahead. Frustratingly, but not unsurprisingly, the proposal passed unanimously. It felt like we were shouting into the wind.

There were 66 vendors open last Saturday, plus half a dozen artists in the studio area, and also the entire antiques and collectors markets too. That was a below-average because a lot of people were at Queen City Ex. Very many of us have built little storefronts. Those are not insignificant investments in themselves. The extraordinarily affordable rents in there provide a fantastic opportunity for fledgeling businesses to start out without taking on huge risks and debt. At the moment, our rents go towards maintaining the building only, not a formal lease. Nowhere else am I going to get a storefront space for so little. However, that also means very, very few of us have businesses that could handle the massive hike in rent if we were to move elsewhere.

My Books and Beans ‘store front’ and new espresso bar

A few businesses open 6 days a week there now. I was intending to try that too once Miranda goes back to school. I know nothing about other people’s costs and expenses, but I know I’ve invested a considerable amount in my store already in terms of stock, the bar and the espresso machine equipment now. I can’t afford to lose all that.

There is nothing else like Centennial Market in the city, and I think that alone should be worthy of some consideration. Yes, there is the Farmers’ Market, and there are quite a few people who have migrated from one to the other or try to do both. But the Farmers’ Market does not provide the same opportunities. The rent works out more expensive there (although the foot traffic and marketing opportunities are obviously a lot higher at the Farmers’ Market so I do understand why!), there is no option to keep things in place between markets, hours are much more limited, some businesses are just not suited to being outside and the majority of people at Centennial wouldn’t qualify for the Farmers Market anyway because we’re not food vendors.

There’s also the co-working hubs, Path/QCC etc which are great if you’re freelancing, but no venues designed for small retail enterprises. On top of that, the costs of renting or leasing commercial space in Regina are almost impossibly expensive for start-ups- I found this out the hard way with my other cafe. I doubt any of the vendors at Centennial Market could afford to go it alone downtown, but as a collective, it’s a lot easier, and we all benefit off each other being there too. Centennial Market acts as a sort of ‘entrepreneurial incubator’. It allows people who neither have the time nor the money to commit to a full-time business – yet – to at least try out their ideas. It is also a fantastic opportunity for people who otherwise cannot work full time: people with disabilities, seniors, parents with young kids etc. to be enterprising. The low-risk set up allows people to be more creative and produce more niche products as well. Case to point, I am the only indie bookstore in Regina right now. A space like this for small retailers and producers is incredibly valuable to the city if they want to cultivate entrepreneurship.

All that Centennial Market vendors are asking is not to be disbanded without any provision made for us to continue. In an ideal world, that would be in the space we currently occupy – we are only using half of one floor of a three-storey building. How much self-storage does this city actually need? And even if we lose the building, could City Hall or any other municipal agency see a way of supporting and subsidizing this amazing resource?