When Winnipeg entrepreneur Brock Peters was looking for a location for his new coffeehouse, he was hoping to find one in an “up-and-coming” neighbourhood, rather than in a well-established one.
The neighbourhood he chose was the West End, the sprawling area sandwiched between the downtown and Polo Park.
“The more I talked to people, especially people in my age group (20s and 30s), the more I got the impression it is a neighbourhood on the way up,” Peters said during a recent interview.
“A lot of people my age are renting or buying starter homes in the area, and some other new businesses are popping up, like the Feast (Cafe & Bistro) on Ellice (Avenue).”
Peters said he also liked the fact it’s a diverse neighbourhood, and a very walkable one, as well.
“It also didn’t hurt that the rent is quite a bit more reasonable here than it is on Corydon (Avenue) or Osborne (Avenue),” he said.
So when the main floor of a small retail/residential building at 679 Sargent Ave. became available, the writer and former bookstore employee grabbed it.
After doing some renovations, the 600-square-foot space became the home of Strong Badger Coffeehouse, which began serving locally sourced coffees, teas and baked goods Aug. 2.
Strong Badger is one of 29 new businesses that have opened in the West End in roughly the first seven months of 2016, according to data compiled by the West End Business Improvement Zone (BIZ).
The growth comes on the heels of 49 new businesses that opened in the area in 2015.
Gloria Cardwell-Hoeppner, the BIZ executive director, said Peters isn’t the only one who thinks the West End is an up-and-coming neighbourhood.
“We have been hearing that a lot. Braden Smith, chief planner for the City of Winnipeg… made that comment at our AGM (annual general meeting) last year,” she said.
“We’ve also heard a lots of people say Sargent (Avenue) has a new vibrancy to it.”
Joe Kornelsen, the BIZ promotion and development co-ordinator, noted Leighton Fontaine, who was the chef at the former Osborne Village Café in the Osborne Village Motor Inn, also plans to open a new eatery — Village Café — in a building near the corner of Sargent Avenue and Young Street.
Kornelsen said Peters is correct in thinking a lot of younger people are moving into the area.
According to the West End BIZ’s Open for Business report, the area’s population is younger than the Winnipeg average, with a larger portion of its 36,000 residents being people being between 20 and 44 years of age.
Kornelsen said some of the factors helping to draw younger people to the area are the fact it’s one of the most affordable neighbourhoods in the city, it’s walkable, and it’s close to the downtown — which appeals to University of Winnipeg students and those who prefer to walk or cycle to school or work or wherever.
Another factor is some of the new businesses in the area have what Kornelsen described as a “really cool vibe to them.”
(Examples he gave were Strong Badger, Barn Hammer Brewing Co., which opened in July at 595 Wall St., and Sleepy Owl Bread, which opened in late 2014 at 751 Wall St.)
He noted before he opened his new coffeehouse, Peters met with a number of community groups to get feedback on some of the things he could do to make his business a good fit for the neighbourhood.
“He wanted it to be a space the community could really identify with, and he put a lot of extra work into that before opening. It was really neat to see that kind of social conscience, which we see in so many of our businesses,” Kornelsen said.
Because this is his first business venture, Peters said he’s keeping it pretty simple for now.
However, he plans to add some new features — including live music and/or book or poetry readings — in the near future. The latter would dovetail nicely with the small selection of used books he sells, as well as with his longer-term plans to sell small, independently published magazines and books.
“To me, a coffeehouse isn’t a coffeehouse if doesn’t have some kind of books going on,” Peters said. “And for me, the idea of a coffee shop is to be a little more holistic than just this quest for the perfect cup of coffee.
“I’ve had a mediocre cup of coffee, but it was good because I was also watching a singer-songwriter or I was reading a good book.”
Peters would also like to expand his menu to include things such as soups and simple sandwiches. But that’s for a little further down the road, when he can afford to hire some employees.
He said he’s pleased with the response his one-man operation has received so far.
“It hasn’t been lineups busy, but busy enough. And what’s encouraging is that a lot of people from the neighbourhood have been coming in and saying they’re glad (Strong Badger is there).”
Know of any newsworthy or interesting trends or developments in the local office, retail, industrial or multi-family residential sectors? Let real estate reporter Murray McNeill know at the email address below, or at 204-697-7254.