The commercial area of Selkirk Avenue has been described as “the heart of the North End”. Most North End families did almost all of their shopping in the North End and Selkirk Avenue was the place to go.
The variety and concentration of retail stores on Selkirk Avenue caused this area to be the commercial hub. It has been said that at times the sidewalks were so crowded that there was barely room to move. The ethnic diversity was very much evident on Selkirk Avenue with the vast variety of shops and services provided.
Among the offerings on Selkirk Avenue in the 50’s and 60’s were bakeries, fish markets, a shoemaker, tinsmiths, blacksmith’s, bowling alley, movie theatre, barber shops, corner grocery and more. There were clusters of specialty offerings including a reported seven photography studios in the blocks near Main Street.
Women’s clothing shops were also a key offering on Selkirk Avenue providing the fashion and bargain conscious consumer ample opportunity to shop for clothing. Most notable among these was Clifford’s however other retailers included the Original Shop, Brody’s, Belle Rykiss and Oretzki’s department store. In addition to the retail shops, there were successful clothing manufacturers present on the Avenue as well, such as Mittleman’s and Stalls.
While Oretzki’s is a fondly remembered locally owned and operated department store, national chains such as Woolworth’s had a presence on Selkirk Avenue and both stores attracted shoppers to the area in droves.
The infamous Merchants Hotel began life in 1913 as the Steiman Block and wasn’t converted into a hotel until 1933. Now closed and scheduled for re-development as a multi-use community hub, the new Merchants Corner will house new retail facilities, post-secondary education offerings and student family housing, combined with a new multi-unit housing development to the rear of the building on the former parking lot.
Selkirk Avenue today continues to feature many of the unique and ethnic retail offerings of the early years. Specialty bakeries, butcher shops and ethnic product offerings remain as do many corner and variety stores. The emergence of an educational hub and social service agencies continue to provide activity on the Avenue. While the introduction of large covered shopping centres in the 70’s and 80’s followed by the suburban Power Centres and big box stores of the new millennium has had an effect on Selkirk Avenue, the area is steadfastly holding on.
There is no doubt that today’s Selkirk Avenue is a far cry from the Avenue of the 50’s to early 80’s. While many of the retail operations have closed, many have continued to operate and thrive. There is a feeling of optimism with the recent developments in the area. The closing of the Merchants’ Hotel and its pending redevelopment will be a catalyst for change of the retail strip and the community in general. The emergence of an education and training hub with programs currently being provided by the University of Winnipeg and University of Manitoba will be enhanced with development plans underway. Urban Circle provides post-secondary training in health care services and the Manitoba government’s Aboriginal training centre is a much needed asset.
The youth movement is strong and standing up for an end to violence with weekly rally’s at the community Bell Tower. Art and cultural programming is provided through several organizations on the avenue and is aimed to improve the communities quality of life.
What is missing is the renewal of the variety and breadth of unique and specialty retail operations on Selkirk Avenue. Therein lays the opportunity for new investment and entrepreneurs which will be undertaken by the newest wave of immigrants to relocate to Winnipeg’s North End. This area is also served through the Selkirk Avenue BIZ.