Number of new businesses in Winnipeg’s West End at 8-year high: West End BIZ

The West End BIZ is celebrating new businesses in the area this week, and the organization says the number of people setting up shops in the neighbourhood is at an eight-year high despite lingering effects of the pandemic.

New Business Week highlights 56 new businesses that opened in the West End last year with the goal of attracting more Winnipeggers through their doors.

The number of new places to shop in the area is still below the pre-pandemic yearly average of 60, but there is optimism being found in the overall number of businesses in the neighbourhood.

“Back in 2015, we had 855 businesses in the zone, and today we have 870,” West End BIZ executive director Joe Kornelsen told CBC.

“I would say for sure this is a change in the tides. That doesn’t mean things are perfect.”

During the pandemic, Kornelsen said about 60 West End businesses closed, which exceeded the number of businesses opening in the area.

Opening a business is not an easy thing to do, he said, so it has been heartening to see more people deciding to pursue the challenge than in previous years.

Hope despite unpredictability

Desalegn Saliew was one of those people. He manages Bee Wow Convenience Store, which opened last year.

The shop on Portage and Furby offers Ethiopian goods, and Saliew said demand for them is so high that it can be hard to keep them on the shelves, but he isn’t celebrating yet.

“Running a business — I’ll say it’s good, but you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow,” he told CBC.

There are expenses that the store needs to cover every single day, and he said the unpredictability of running a business can be felt nearly every minute.

Your local business owner is your neighbour.– Joe Kornelsen, executive director of West End BIZ

Economic uncertainties, inflation and safety are his biggest concerns at the store, but Saliew said both the local Ethiopian community and Canadians have been happy to have his store around.

He’s staying positive and has optimistic hopes for Bee Wow’s future in the West End.

“Where else can you go? No matter what — this is where people are moving.”

Jon Hoang, co-founder of Umaido Donuts, said he wasn’t sure what to expect in a tough economy before opening last fall.

Hoang’s shop offers Japanese-style mochi donuts, and their September soft launch drew overwhelming support as people lined up around the block on opening day.

“We didn’t expect that at all,” he told CBC.

A man in a beanie-style hat looks forward at the camera.
Buying locally can go much further than buying from chain stores, said Jon Hoang, co-founder of Umaido Donuts. (Prabhjot Lotey/CBC)

Growing up in restaurants, Hoang said he was well aware of the dedication and perseverance it takes to run a business, but he’s confident in Umaido’s future.

“It’s been steady after the grand opening. I’d say we’re doing good still, and it can only go up from here, right?”

West End residents always want to see new businesses, said Hoang, and buying from a local shop can go much further than buying from a chain store.

“Going to a local business, you’ll feel [close to] the owner.… You’ll know you’re supporting someone.”

‘Cautiously optimistic’

Kornelsen said shopping locally means the dollars stay in Winnipeg’s economy, helping to build a stronger tax base and community.

“Your local business owner is your neighbour,” he said. “They understand the same challenges that you and your community understand.”

A man in a suit smiles towards the camera.
One in four West End businesses do not survive their first three years, according to Joe Kornelsen, executive director of West End Biz. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Broken windows and the end of government programs to support businesses during the pandemic are two of the biggest concerns Kornelsen said he’s currently hearing from business owners.

While businesses are just beginning to move past pandemic-related challenges, uncertainties remain, he said.

“It’s certainly true that there’s a lot of optimism among businesses. It would be wrong to say that we aren’t also concerned about a potential recession — we’re cautiously optimistic.”

One in four West End businesses don’t survive their first three years, since they don’t have a customer base to connect to, said Kornelsen.

New Business Week runs until Monday. Kornelsen says the celebration helps raise awareness for Winnipeggers of who they can support in their neighbourhood.

“It helps folks discover those new businesses. A lot of people want to support local.”

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