It’s amazing the role certain places play in our lives without us fully realising it. Since we came back to Manitoba, I have been reunited with so many of the settings for my most vivid memories. Among those settings is the Bay Downtown Winnipeg. Built in the 1920s, the building is a breathtaking example of golden age architecture. That said, however, it has long since seen its best days.
My dad worked as a regional sales manager at the Bay when I was born. Naturally, we shopped in the store often. I remember being warned that if I broke anything, my parents would have to buy it – so, of course, I got nervous and did actually break something once. I also once absconded on a bicycle in the sporting goods department when I was about four, and Dad had to chase me through the aisles!
Years later, after Dad moved on to a career in banking, I got my first job at the Bay Downtown. I started work as a fragrance salesgirl just weeks after I graduated from high school. By then, the store had begun its perhaps inevitable decline. The maintenance team slowly blocked off sections of certain floors where financial constraints made required repairs impossible. But we had fun at work. We rarely saw customers, so we had lots of time to chat and get to know our co-workers. Ian and I met at the store the same year I started working there, while I filled in for a co-worker at a small cologne counter in the men’s department. Years later, we posed for our engagement pictures in front of the store. And, a decade later, we’re back again.
Much has changed in the intervening years. It’s rare that people shop in downtown Winnipeg now. These days, most of the store hides behind hastily erected sheets of drywall. In the seven storey building, customers can access only two floors. My beloved fragrance counter is gone, replaced by what appears to be an attempt at a small scale ladieswear department. The paint is peeling. Bannisters on the stairs are loose. And the escalators, which were never quick in my lifetime, barely chug up and down. It’s a sad state of affairs for a building so full of history, and so full of memories for me.
For years, there has been a debate about the fate of the Bay Downtown. Right now, no one knows what will happen to the building, or what is left of the store in it. And so, while it lasts, we intend to take full advantage of its beautiful facade for outfit photos.