Thursday, January 10, 2008

Keep spandex out of "our" Village

Even when you’re doing the right thing, you’re not going to please everyone. Some people are just too upset to see that the right thing can work.

If American Apparel followed the lead of every other garment manufacturer in the U.S., and outsourced thier manufacturing to China, they would be thousands of miles from the regular criticism of American garment unions and their sympathizers, who accuse American Apparel of “treating their workers badly” (which usually translates into simply discouraging unionization).

Instead, they keep their manufacturing jobs in the U.S., specifically, in their factory located in downtown Los Angeles. They pay decent wages, and offer an assortment of benefits that even the most powerful unions could not (or will not) fight for. According to the The Economist, they offer subsidized health insurance (costing the company $4-5M a year), subsidized meals (another $500,000 per year), and shares in the company to all their employees.

The company also provides free English lessons to their employees, many of whom have just arrived in L.A. from Mexico.

Still, American Apparel can’t escape backlash. This may have something to do with them being non-unionized, or because they exemplify how corporations can succeed while being fair and generous to thier employees.

Maybe, it’s just because they have “American” in their name.

In any case, this disdain for the company has reached violent levels in Winnipeg. Since opening thier first Winnipeg location on Osborne Street in December of last year, the store has had their shop windows smashed, and tagged with the words “soul destroyer”. When I visited the store yesterday, the windows were pock-marked by gobs of frozen saliva.

If American Apparel were to follow the local lead of every other trendy retail chain store that has opened in Winnipeg in 50 years, they would have opened up in one of the city’s shopping mall or big-box wastelands.

Instead, they moved to a traditional pedestrian shopping street, and in the process, gave a badly-needed facelift to 108 Osborne’s decripit exterior.

That the sale of 108 Osborne resulted in the end of one of the city’s small dance clubs and rock venues, the Collective Cabaret, may have alot to do with the anger expressed in hurled rocks and saliva, as well as the near-comical comments posted on this Facebook group.

People of my generation tend to bemoan at length, the lack of vibrancy found in Winnipeg’s urban neighborhoods. When it comes down to it, it seems they enjoy wallowing in the mire of Winnipeg’s decline, prefering the peeling paint and tattered awning of a nightclub that featured an ear-shatteringly bad sound system, to a trendy yet moderately priced retailer that operates in a renovated heritage building.

What is most confusing about the young hipsters that revell of Winnipeg’s, gritty, gap-toothed and bruised state--and take any commercial success as an affront to it--is that many of them will eventually move to the gentrifying quarters of more dynamically growing cities: Montreal’s Mile End, Toronto’s Parkdale, or Vancouver’s Commercial Drive. The latter is half-seriously refered to as Winnipeg’s fastest growing neighborhood.

The Nobel prize-winning economist Milton Friedman once famoulsy said that “nobody knows how to make a pencil,” illustrating the complex systems manufacturing and distributing of pencils, and the extraction of its materials: wood, graphite, and rubber.

Nobody, it seems, knows how or why buildings in Winnipeg were built at one time, or how and why old buildings are being restored and preserved beautifully--continuing to serve the city’s aesthetic, social and commercial health.

It may seem unsettling to young Winnipeggers today, but it wasn’t because of feelings, soul, people, or music. It was money and the desire to create it. Mrs. Cameron, the wife of Douglas Cameron--one of Winnipeg’s many self-made millionaires of the early 20th century--recalled that “no one came to Winnipeg because they had money. They came to Winnipeg to make money.”

This is how the Osborne Theatre was built in the 1920s: someone wanted to capitalize on both the growing popularity of the movies, and the growing population of the surrounding Fort Rouge neighborhood.

Wayne Towns, the former owner of the Collective Cabaret, has bought the 126 year-old Winnipeg Hotel on south Main Street. He plans to book musical acts in the beverage room. Those who see the loss of a decrepit night club on Osborne as the death of “everything the Village is about”, will pressumably feel right at home on Main Street.

Other long-closed neighborhood theatres, like the Rose at Sargent and Arlington, or the Palace on Selkirk Ave. seem currently unoccupied and decidedly untrendy enough to become new small-sized rock venues. But get them before they’re demolished, however, because even though “decline” doesn’t have “American” in its name, it has still done more to destroy Winnipeg’s soul--whatever that may be--than success ever could.


Blogger MacD said...

“everything the Village is about”?

What does that mean? What IS the village about?

This is the problem with the 'peg. Nobody has any clue.

2:15 PM  

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