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Old Posted Sep 26, 2014, 3:55 PM
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A forumer's long view of Winnipeg

I'm coming up on being a forum member for 13 years. While I like to explore the whole SSP forum, it's fair to say that by far the greatest focus of mine has been in the MB/SK forum and its antecedents. I thought I'd mark the occasion by taking a look back at what has changed for the better and for the worse since I joined this place in the fall of 2001.

Positive Changes

* There is development again. When I first became a member, there was practically nothing of significance under development in the downtown/inner city area. The only development of note throughout the city was suburban big boxes, which were undergoing a boom time. Work had not yet begun on the MTS Centre, Millennium Library, Manitoba Hydro and other landmarks. Even trivial projects that would barely rate mention these days were topics of conversation back then. While no one will confuse us with Toronto or Calgary, there is far more getting built these days.

* Architectural standards are better. There was a real "we'll take what we can get" mentality back in the 90s which led to some real design clunkers. There is a much more sophisticated approach to design these days. We're seeing some true architectural gems pop up throughout the city. There are still some clunkers for sure, but they're less common than they were 15 years ago. Winnipeg has really benefitted from a thriving design community, and it helps that the City of Winnipeg ramped up its standards a bit and doesn't let as many terrible projects get by as they once would have (e.g. Canalta at The Forks).

* People are embracing urban life again. I've alluded to a generational shift taking place where 30 years ago, seemingly every young family aspired to own five acres in St. Andrews or something like that. These days, young people are returning to the city and moving into urban areas once they leave the nest. Many are staying to raise their kids there too. I can tell you many a longtime resident of my inner city neighbourhood has commented on what a huge demographic shift has taken place over the last 20 years... from mostly elderly people to lots of young people with families.

* People are embracing transit again. Further to the last point, young people are becoming less inclined to get a car and drive everywhere the moment they become financially able to. This influences transit riders to live and work in established parts of the city where transit service is at a high standard. Ridership is up across the board too.

* The Jets came back. Even though they soak up huge amounts of subsidies, there is no question that the return of the NHL did more for the city's self-esteem than anything else that could have happened. They validated the positive changes that have taken place here over the years, and improved the city's image across the country. This is made more impressive by how unthinkable it seemed in 2001.

I'll follow up to this post with my comments regarding what has changed for the worse.
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Old Posted Sep 26, 2014, 4:32 PM
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Great post esquire, i think it puts into perspective how long Winnipeg has come. I remember when I joined it was because I wanted to be part of a community interested in seeing cities progress and grow. I remember it was triggered by seeing the Hydro building go up all those years ago and think - hey I wonder if there are people online who know what else will happen in the city

Looking back, there are a lot of positive things to take (for me, the Jets is perhaps the biggest one)
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Old Posted Sep 26, 2014, 6:12 PM
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^ Thanks roc, it's interesting to step back from the day to day and consider the longer term trends.

Now for the bad news... I concede that most of these aren't changes as such as bad habits that we have failed to change.

Negative Changes

* Failure to foster downtown residential growth. The last decade and change has been an absolute boom time for downtown living in most Canadian cities. Places like Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax and others have seen a huge surge in downtown residential development. For a while it looked like Winnipeg might get in on that as Waterfront Drive in the East Exchange was transformed into a nice residential area, but we never really got out of first gear. It is still regarded as too threatening an environment, and I have heard a surprising number of stories from women in particular who have been harrassed or outright assaulted and don't feel comfortable downtown as a result. It's a shame because the lack of downtown residential has hindered the improvement of downtown in other ways.

* Failure to improve blighted inner-city neighbourhoods. Apart from West Broadway which has seen an impressive resurgence over the last decade-plus, we haven't really seen our rougher inner city neighbourhoods turn the corner to any great extent. About a decade ago the West End looked like it was on the cusp of becoming a neighbourhood people gravitated to (as opposed to a place that people end up when they have no other choice), but it never really took off. The North End is still in rough shape with gangs and organized crime even more entrenched now than they were before. Having large high crime neighbourhoods on the edge of downtown has not helped downtown any. Some might criticize improvements as gentrification, but the reality is that improving neighbourhoods help those who are in the area by providing economic opportunities and social stability.

* Failure to establish meaningful rapid transit. As we know, rapid transit is not just a means of getting from point A to point B... it's also a city building tool. People make choices about where to live based on transportation, and rapid transit is an important amenity for those who choose not to drive. Our inability to get even one rapid transit line finished means that Winnipeg will continue to be a difficult place to live without a car.

* Failure to mitigate urban sprawl. Since the days of Glen Murray there has been a growing consciousness of the real costs of urban sprawl and the resulting infrastructure debt that has come as a result of spreading tax dollars too thinly over too large an area. But the city (and province, for that matter) have done little to contain continued sprawl within the city and in the exurbs. The last 15 years saw huge new retail developments on the edge of town, along with large new residential areas that are as auto-dependent as anything that went up in the 1970s. This ultimately hurts the city and costs an increasing amount of money to service with infrastrucutre.
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Old Posted Sep 27, 2014, 12:40 AM
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Technically, failing to improve things isn't a negative change. It's a negative stay-the-same, or something. Anyway, I'm not as pessimistic as you on your first two points. We have three residential highrises under construction right now downtown. We lost downtown housing units through the late 90s and early 00s. The downtown population hasn't been growing gangbusters, but it is growing, and I feel like we're at a tipping point.

And while few inner-city neighborhoods have outright gentrified I'd argue they are better than they were. Sargent may have floundered since 2005 or so but it's picked up again and is starting to look clean. Spence and Alexander, depending on the block, seem safer these days and many previously boarded up buildings are occupied again. And then there's Central Park, which I consider a great success. It's no mere coincidence that the improvements in these areas have directly correlated to the huge growth in immigration in the past decade. Given another ten years, I'd be surprised if Spence, at least, doesn't become a pretty nice neighborhood. If I were the house-buying type I'd have a hard time justifying buying anywhere else.
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Old Posted Sep 27, 2014, 12:58 AM
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Moving along, since I forgot I had a point to add to the negative side: downtown retail. It sucks. It's worse than it was ten years ago.

It's hard to slam the city too severely for this because some of downtown's former retail bread and butter doesn't really exist any more. Going downtown to record stores, for example, used to be the shit. Now, there's no such thing as record stores in the first place, but there especially aren't record stores downtown because there are no stores downtown. And here's where I slam someone for that: Centreventure can go fuck themselves. They've spent the last ten years fucking around small businesses so they can play developer. Main street was starting to catch on with retail until CV decided to build ugly office buildings, to name the worst example.

Restaurants and bars have thrived, which is nice, but retail has actually declined precipitously in the past ten years. And I don't think the two things are unrelated. The MTS centre, toolshed, and CV's persistence in turning downtown into a playground for drunk suburbanites instead of a neighborhood, have increased demand for restaurants and bars. They're getting exactly what they want. But that demand drives up rents, which drives out actual stores.

Which brings me to another negative. Centreventure in general. Fuck those guys, right? We've beat those guys up and down this board for a while now so I won't say too much about them but I'm not above kicking them while they're down. Speaking of messing up the economics of real downtown improvement, buying a shitty motel for 7 million dollars basically set the price of shitty, underdeveloped land far above what anyone would actually care to pay for it. Thus, nobody is going to buy and develop shitty, underdeveloped land downtown. Thanks for the surface parking lots, guys.

That's another negative: there are still too many parking lots.

Alright, I'm done.
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Old Posted Sep 27, 2014, 12:59 AM
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things are improoving.

2001 2002
esplinade riel bridge
keniston underpass
waterfront drive
crocus
credit union center
MEC
-----------
north end is cleaner since
land values go up
people take more pride in their properties
more tools avail to communities to incurage investment via grants.
more resources to deal with slum lords......

the kings head expands
yellow dog was born


anyhow i joined in 2005.

when i joined we had just started to climb from rock bottom as a city were still climbing out but we can see the sun now
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Old Posted Sep 27, 2014, 3:25 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by esquire View Post
I'm coming up on being a forum member for 13 years. While I like to explore the whole SSP forum, it's fair to say that by far the greatest focus of mine has been in the MB/SK forum and its antecedents. I thought I'd mark the occasion by taking a look back at what has changed for the better and for the worse since I joined this place in the fall of 2001.
I wonder what we were talking about at that first forum 'meet' at Portage Place ... can't have been much but I recollect that it was all at a high level of earnestness. I think we would have been impressed with what has happened to downtown Winnipeg in the ensuing 12 years when it came to buildings but maybe not so much in terms of the feel of the streets, which can still be pretty empty and desperate compared to other Canadian cities. On the other hand, I do remember feeling like some sort of brave urban explorer in those days when I'd do my photo shoots in areas like the East Exchange ... not that way anymore.

One positive is a younger generation (younger than mine) that, thanks to greater travel opportunities and the Internet, is more aware of what is offered by larger cities and increasingly demands the same sort of thing at home.
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Old Posted Sep 27, 2014, 9:20 PM
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Originally Posted by biguc View Post
Moving along, since I forgot I had a point to add to the negative side: downtown retail. It sucks. It's worse than it was ten years ago.

It's hard to slam the city too severely for this because some of downtown's former retail bread and butter doesn't really exist any more. Going downtown to record stores, for example, used to be the shit. Now, there's no such thing as record stores in the first place, but there especially aren't record stores downtown because there are no stores downtown. And here's where I slam someone for that: Centreventure can go fuck themselves. They've spent the last ten years fucking around small businesses so they can play developer. Main street was starting to catch on with retail until CV decided to build ugly office buildings, to name the worst example.
You raise a good point regarding retail. It has gotten worse over the past decade. As I've said before, downtown retail more or less became terminal once Eaton's closed down. Since then it has been a long, slow fade to black. A decade ago I could still do the bulk of my Christmas shopping downtown, but with more shops closing and The Bay shrinking each year, I can't do that anymore.

To tell you the truth I have basically written off any hopes for downtown retail. Winnipeg exists in that weird no-man's-land where we're too big to have our major retail concentrated in one downtown location (like in Regina and Saskatoon) but too small to support thriving downtown retail AND the suburban malls and power centres (which is the case in basically every Canadian city larger than ours). Centreventure tried to breathe some life into downtown retail about 10-15 years ago by attracting some big names like Staples, A&B Sound and MEC, but it really hasn't made much of a difference.

In my opinion, downtown retail's descent is a symptom of continued sprawl left unchecked (not just in terms residential development... this includes allowing any developer to put up big boxes whenever they want).


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Originally Posted by Andy6 View Post
I wonder what we were talking about at that first forum 'meet' at Portage Place ... can't have been much but I recollect that it was all at a high level of earnestness. I think we would have been impressed with what has happened to downtown Winnipeg in the ensuing 12 years when it came to buildings but maybe not so much in terms of the feel of the streets, which can still be pretty empty and desperate compared to other Canadian cities. On the other hand, I do remember feeling like some sort of brave urban explorer in those days when I'd do my photo shoots in areas like the East Exchange ... not that way anymore.
It feels as though things have improved to some extent when you consider Winnipeg ca. 2014 vs. Winnipeg ca. 2002. But when you consider whether we have kept pace with other cities, my answer would be no. We have fallen behind to a considerable extent. Urban living has become very common for 20 and 30 somethings in other Canadian cities... not so much here. It is still very much a niche market in Winnipeg. Even though there are new residential buildings being built and in the planning stages, it's still a trifle in comparison to what is going on in a city like Edmonton, which has a downtown that is roughly comparable to Winnipeg's in size and scale. Even a smaller city like Halifax looks like it's experiencing far greater growth. For whatever reason it seems as though Winnipeggers cannot be persuaded to live and work downtown unless there is some sort of publicly funded incentive in it for them.
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Old Posted Sep 27, 2014, 9:28 PM
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Great post, esquire!

I really only have two suggestions for Winnipeg as it continues to develop (that process alone will take care of all the others).

1. Enough with the Tyndall stone. The city needs some colour. No more beige buildings and pale concrete streets, unless you build the Maltese architecture to match. What you have now is great, and it'll make a beautiful and distinct core for the city's future, but it's time for more colour.

2. Build more bridges. The city has two rivers and only a handful of bridges. The only hardships I ever had commuting in Winnipeg were the bottlenecks around the bridges. Cities with Winnipeg's population should have many times more bridges. Even poor ones - Sarajevo, Bosnia, has more bridges per city block than Winnipeg has in total. And you could walk across its river.

Other than that, rapid transit wasn't even that big an issue for me. Everything moved very fast - faster then here, for example - except the parking lots the roads turned into around the bridges. Build more bridges and your perception of traffic problems will greatly decrease.

Oh, and one other:

3. Fuck the Globe & Mail. The Human Rights Museum is a beautiful building!
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Old Posted Sep 29, 2014, 7:10 PM
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I miss going dowtown as a retail destination, walk,browse, check out some cool shops, pretty fun. It ain't as fun as it used to be. On the bright side there are many more places to drink.
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Old Posted Sep 29, 2014, 7:52 PM
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Great post, esquire!

I really only have two suggestions for Winnipeg as it continues to develop (that process alone will take care of all the others).

1. Enough with the Tyndall stone. The city needs some colour. No more beige buildings and pale concrete streets, unless you build the Maltese architecture to match. What you have now is great, and it'll make a beautiful and distinct core for the city's future, but it's time for more colour.

2. Build more bridges. The city has two rivers and only a handful of bridges. The only hardships I ever had commuting in Winnipeg were the bottlenecks around the bridges. Cities with Winnipeg's population should have many times more bridges. Even poor ones - Sarajevo, Bosnia, has more bridges per city block than Winnipeg has in total. And you could walk across its river.

Other than that, rapid transit wasn't even that big an issue for me. Everything moved very fast - faster then here, for example - except the parking lots the roads turned into around the bridges. Build more bridges and your perception of traffic problems will greatly decrease.

Oh, and one other:

3. Fuck the Globe & Mail. The Human Rights Museum is a beautiful building!
Thanks for the comments. The bridge issue isn't one that hadn't really struck me before... but now that you mention it, we could do with a couple more river crossings, particularly within the inner parts of the city. The problem is that any new crossings would automatically lead to very busy streets leading to it, and any such project would get NIMBY'd to death. I'm not sure where you could build such a thing without it becoming a major issue... there hasn't been a new traffic crossing built in the inner city since the Midtown Bridge went up in the 1960s.

(I concede that I wouldn't be too thrilled with a new route like that in my own backyard... I live in an area that was, according to a 1960s plan, supposed to have an extended Grant Avenue run east, toward and over the Red River. Something like that being built would mean having a busy arterial running through my area... that would not be exactly the most welcome news IMO.)
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Old Posted Sep 29, 2014, 9:30 PM
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With regard to bridges, I think that Winnipeg's problem is that they always seem to go for the grandeur facade rather than just a meat and potatoes functional bridge to take you from Point A to B. For example, Norwood/Main Street bridges really didn't do much for the traffic that joined that strip between the two bridges. Marion Street should have had a flyover that extended into the Winter Club area, without the maze of traffic cris-crossing from Donald Street South to Main Street. Provencher Bridge should have joined the one way arteries of York and St.Mary avenues to be functional.
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Old Posted Sep 29, 2014, 10:31 PM
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Which brings me to another negative. Centreventure in general. Fuck those guys, right?
Your points were far more eloquent than mine, but you've nailed it on the head. CVs intervention in downtown has had a far greater negative effect than anybody can see or had ever anticipated. We'll look back in twenty-five years and only then will we understand the consequences of trying to engineer neighbourhoods around somebody's bottom line instead of what actually makes a neighbourhood. I guess we're already seeing a little bit of it in the East Exchange, but shiny new buildings can distract from real problems.

Last edited by Simplicity; Sep 30, 2014 at 9:26 PM. Reason: East exchange, not west...
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Old Posted Sep 29, 2014, 10:41 PM
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Your points were far more eloquent than mine, but you've nailed it on the head. CVs intervention in downtown has had a far greater negative effect than anybody can see or had ever anticipated. We'll look back in twenty-five years and only then will we understand the consequences of trying to engineer neighbourhoods around somebody's bottom line instead of what actually makes a neighbourhood. I guess we're already seeing a little bit of it in the West Exchange, but shiny new buildings can distract from real problems.
They started off with decent results in 1999 but as the years rolled along they have some sort of other mandate and it was mostly ego.

They had the chance to purchase 100% of the properties on Waterfront Drive but Stenning did jack shit. Bill Thiessen (my realtor friend, RIP) worked at Centre Ventre for a few years in their infancy and he filled me in on all sorts of things and they were not good. CV had a shot at making a great community there but it is just a cobbled together neighborhood. This sucks because of the killer views and Juba Park.

They did screw up a good residential grant when they got the NDP involved under pressure from the condo developers to include the education credit. Pure Greed.
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Old Posted Sep 29, 2014, 11:28 PM
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Thanks for the comments. The bridge issue isn't one that hadn't really struck me before... but now that you mention it, we could do with a couple more river crossings, particularly within the inner parts of the city. The problem is that any new crossings would automatically lead to very busy streets leading to it, and any such project would get NIMBY'd to death. I'm not sure where you could build such a thing without it becoming a major issue... there hasn't been a new traffic crossing built in the inner city since the Midtown Bridge went up in the 1960s.

(I concede that I wouldn't be too thrilled with a new route like that in my own backyard... I live in an area that was, according to a 1960s plan, supposed to have an extended Grant Avenue run east, toward and over the Red River. Something like that being built would mean having a busy arterial running through my area... that would not be exactly the most welcome news IMO.)
I just looked at it on a map and that actually wouldn't be the worst thing. Grant would run into Brandon and from there it could hook up to Churchill and cross the river to Lynndale and St. Mary's. It wouldn't quite eviscerate the neighborhood. The funny thing about it is, the worst crossing I can think of is the St. Mary's bridge, specifically for the congestion it generates down Stradbrook. There really is no other reasonable way to get from Ft. Rouge and environs to St. Boniface. With that in mind, a Grant bridge looks kind of smart. That said, I'd rather see some kind of flyover madness connecting Marion and Goulet directly to Stradbrook and River.

On the topic of bridges, though, one of the best things our city could do for some of our better neighborhoods and downtown is to build a few pedestrian/at bridges. People have been mumbling for a while about a bridge connecting Ft. Rouge park to McFadyen park, but a connection from Whittier park to Fort Douglas park by the Alexander docks would be a boon to the renascent neighborhoods on either end, and a bridge between Cornish and Roslyn would make trips between our former coolest neighborhood and next coolest neighborhood a lot more fun.
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Old Posted Sep 30, 2014, 1:33 AM
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^ From a Riverview standpoint, it would turn the riverbank into a no-man's-land as crosstown traffic would zip along the inevitable stroad/expressway-lite along what is now Churchill Drive. It wouldn't be the end of the world (and I concede it would probably be useful from a transportation perspective), but I can tell you that I wouldn't be thrilled about it. 30 storey apartment tower, no problem... super-stroad river crossing, not so much.

I do agree that pedestrian/AT bridges would do a lot to improve neighbourhood connectivity. Looking at a map, bridges are never really that long of a drive from one to the next until you get to the far outer suburbs where you're driving a lot no matter where you go. However, in some cases it can be quite a long walk to access a bridge, even in the inner city. I love the idea for a McFadyen Park-Fort Rouge Park ped bridge, and I'm sure it would be well used (CV actually included it in their long term plan at one point). The other sites would be perfect too. One other one that came up in city documents before was across the Red River by the Osborne BRT station... the idea was to make the transitway accessible to those living in Norwood Flats.
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Old Posted Sep 30, 2014, 10:27 PM
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That is a good idea. Instead of a Grant car bridge, make a pedestrian bridge nearby. I'd also like to see a bridge over the ft Rouge rail yard so that people on the Pembina side can use the ft Rouge station.
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Old Posted Sep 30, 2014, 11:15 PM
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^ Once the TODs by Ft. Rouge station get built, there will have to be some sort of pedestrian/AT connection to Pembina. It is a huge inconvenience to have to go all the way to Jubilee or Osborne to get to Pembina Hwy. businesses that are just a few metres away.
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Old Posted Sep 30, 2014, 11:23 PM
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That is a good idea. Instead of a Grant car bridge, make a pedestrian bridge nearby. I'd also like to see a bridge over the ft Rouge rail yard so that people on the Pembina side can use the ft Rouge station.

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^ Once the TODs by Ft. Rouge station get built, there will have to be some sort of pedestrian/AT connection to Pembina. It is a huge inconvenience to have to go all the way to Jubilee or Osborne to get to Pembina Hwy. businesses that are just a few metres away.

Pretty sure there are openings at a local comedy club.
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Old Posted Sep 30, 2014, 11:30 PM
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^ Once the TODs by Ft. Rouge station get built, there will have to be some sort of pedestrian/AT connection to Pembina. It is a huge inconvenience to have to go all the way to Jubilee or Osborne to get to Pembina Hwy. businesses that are just a few metres away.
I've gotta laugh a little bit at the irony of this idea given that most of those businesses are either car dealerships or other businesses related to fixing them.

I guess there's a Tim's and McDonalds too...
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