Because that’d be awesome.
And just so you know, the architects of the 13th Ave Safeway redesign have been paying attention to those comments.
I know. People reading the Dog Blog. Crazy, right? But that’s what one of them told me at Tuesday’s community engagement meeting.
It was certainly a worthwhile night out. The meeting wasn’t as well attended as the first one Safeway put on but what it lacked in people it made up for it in attitude. Everyone who rose to ask a question was clearly aggrieved over one element of the design or another — or the whole package — and the loudest bouts of applause were for comments of the “why don’t you just leave it alone and get in better produce” variety.
Beyond that, there were many interesting tidbits of info revealed at the meeting. Here are a few things I learned….
Why Safeway is doing the redesign. Turns out the 13th Ave Safeway is losing business to bigger grocery stores. In fact, it was mentioned that it is “vulnerable to pressure” from the Grasslands shopping centre and that Walmart is cutting into their customer base. I spoke with John Graham, Safeway’s Public Affairs Manager in Saskatchewan, and while he wouldn’t reveal any specific numbers, he did say that 13th Ave has been losing customers even to other, larger Safeway’s in the city and so head office wants to increase the size and selection in Cathedral so they can recapture some of the local market that is driving off to larger stores.
Basically, they claim, embiggening the 13th Ave Safeway makes it viable and profitable far into the distant future. Leaving it as is means it will probably, eventually, someday maybe wither and die. And reopen as a carpet store. (He didn’t say that about the carpet store. That’s me, the pessimist, imagining the worst case scenario.)
I can’t say I’m surprised by any of this but the comments about Grasslands and Walmart did make me snap to attention because when Harvard was selling the city on the idea of Grasslands we were told categorically (and I was told explicitly) that their shopping centre would not impact local businesses in surrounding neighbourhoods. The city is short a million square feet of retail space, they told me.
Of course, I suspected they were shitting me at the time. (I mean, if we were short a million square feet of retail, that former-future-Zellers wouldn’t be sitting empty today, would it?) But still, I didn’t expect to hear that my local grocer was feeling the Grasslands pressure so soon.
The Robert Boyer mural can’t be saved. Well, it could. But according to P3, the architects on the project, it will cost around $300,000 to preserve it and that figure doesn’t include restoration costs afterwards, as damage will inevitably be done to it during construction.
What they were kind of hoping to do was to take high quality images of it and then have a reproduction of the mural painted onto the new store. They approached Boyer’s widow with this option and she said no, she’d rather the painting go than be copied by someone else.
Which is too bad, but fair enough. It’s her call.
Also found out that when the original painting was done, the agreement was to use paints that would fade away within five years, but that the paints have held up way better than expected. So, basically, the deal from the beginning was for that mural to be disposable. Kind of like the Safeway building itself. (Wait… did I type that last bit IRL?)
Anyway. It is tragic but the Boyer mural looks to be up for the chop. It was suggested though that it might be nice to commission another artist of similar stature to paint a new mural on the building. Maybe on the east wall which is in the current design kind of blank.
The east wall is blank because…. They were talking about virginia creeper or something like that to liven up the building on the east side, but can’t do that, they claim, because the trees along there would block the sun.
There were a lot of complaints about that side of the building being unsightly. The architects and even the Safeway reps seemed to take note of this and agree. My guess is, if we end up seeing any changes to the building, it’ll be here.
Safeway is a big, immobile bureaucracy. Most telling question of the night, I thought, was couldn’t they make the building design “more unique”? The point being that the architects had made this effort to adjust Safeway’s usual building design by incorporating elements from landmarks in the neighbourhood. That’s why the latest drawings include things like arched windows and brickwork. This, apparently, will be a “unique” Safeway design when it’s all done.
The desire for something “more unique,” highlights I think that what a lot of people are having trouble with are all these gestures toward nostalgic, traditional design when they’d actually be much happier with something that pushed artistic boundaries and was a real showpiece location.
The architects, from the sounds of things, would really like to be able to cut loose on the project but they have a list of requirements they have to stick to. Ultimately and unfortunately, Safeway isn’t willing to put the kind of investment into this Safeway that would make a cutting edge, showpiece possible. They have a design and a brand that they want to stick to and P3 had to fight to make the design changes they’ve made so far.
According to Graham, it is very unlikely that any significant changes to the design will happen at this point.
Thing is, the 13th Ave Safeway is a smallish store for them and the neighbourhood doesn’t have the density that would justify putting up a showpiece building.
Most of the windows are fake windows. On the image above, the centre three banks of windows are all fake. Only the windows around the entrances are real. The windows along the west wall are also fake. Reason for this is Safeway apparently does this “stage lighting” thing in their new stores where they “light” their products with overhead lamps to highlight them and make everything more… I don’t know… cozy and dynamic??
Also, apparently, because this store is small, to maximize the shopping space, they’ve pushed all the “backstage” stuff — washrooms, storage, meat cutting, bakery ovens, offices, those sorts of things — to the fringe of the building. And I guess they want to keep all that hidden.
Anyway, there will be dramatically less natural light in the new building. And there won’t be a big lovely curtain-wall of glass looking out over a parking lot and bleeding off heat. (Yeah, yeah. I know. Glass curtain walls are one of those marvelous characteristics of mid-century modern architecture. Natural light. The invisible building. I know. I can read. But they’re also inefficient as fuck and hard to maintain over the long term. Peak oil is coming. And many of the elements of modernist architecture are going to be impractical when it does.)
A lot of the people at the meeting were very upset about this. But it’s something Safeway seems unwilling to move on.
The new sign is same as the old sign only different. The plan is to remove the neon “Safeway” on the sign in the parking lot and put up something backlit. And the “S” logo at the top will be changed to the new “S” logo that Safeway is using. (The new logo is same as the old logo only the colours are reversed.) The “Delicatessen” part of the sign will be changed to read “Pharmacy” because that’s a more important part of the business now.
Again, people wanted to keep the neon. But the architects pointed out neon is really energy inefficient and hard to maintain. People countered they’ve never seen the neon on the sign needing repair. Things ended at a rhetorical stalemate. Again, I suspect Safeway won’t be changing their mind on this.
There is no Giant Tiger moving in but about that Giant Tiger…. So I was standing around talking to a P3 architect and a Safeway rep. And as I alluded to above, the subject of the Dog Blog and all the comments that we got on that Safeway post came up. “Oh, you read the blog,” I said. “Well, I try not to but someone said I really should in this case,” said the architect. Then we started talking about all the crazy comments we got. “Ha ha ha. They said we suck,” laughed the architect. “Oh, ho ho ho. They said we suck,” the Safeway rep chortled loudly. “Oh, ha ha!” I guffawed, “They always say we suck!” And we’re laughing and laughing, good chums that we are, and I’m like, “And then, ha ha ha!” tears streaming down my cheeks, “they said a Giant Tiger! wants to move into this location! Ha! Ha!” I’m bent over, holding my side and slapping my knee from the hilarity of it all.
And everyone else is quiet like I just spilled my drink on a recently deceased grandmother. The architect excuses himself and walks away.
“Wait. Guys. It’s just a joke, right? There’s no Giant Tiger,” I said. “Right?”
Okay, so the Safeway rep — John Graham again, as if you didn’t know — says that there have been expressions of interest from various companies about that location. And he would not confirm that Giant Tiger is one of them. And wouldn’t disconfirm it either.
What he did say is that Safeway has no plans to dump that location now or in the forseeable future. It’s still a profitable grocery store.
But! He pointed out that it is Safeway’s policy not to sell or lease a location they vacate to another grocery store or to a business that would compete with their grocery stores. So, if they were to bail on Cathedral, there’d be no Extra Foods taking their place. No Dollar Store and no Giant Tiger either.
The carpet store I raised earlier is a more likely outcome.
You can still have your say. According to the reps from the city, the Safeway expansion and redesign will be going before Regina Planning Commission very soon. I don’t recall them giving a date but next week isn’t out of the question. Those meetings are at 4:30 in the afternoon and you can just show up and sign up to speak. It will subsequently go before council and to speak there you will have to submit a written version of what you plan to say the Thursday in advance of the meeting. Those happen on Mondays at 5:30.
Plus you can always contact your councillor. If that’s Fred Clipsham, you can find his contact info here.
And, that’s it. There was a lot more ground covered but I have to go make lunch and my laptop battery is about to die. Comment away. And if you have questions about the meeting, I can try to answer them. And I’m betting many regular Dog Blog readers were there and can give a different perspective on things.