Friday, April 13, 2012

338 Ellice Avenue - Alabama Building

Alabama Building

Place: Alabama Building
Address: 338 Ellice at Hargrave (Map)
Architect: Plotkin and Buchwald
Contractor: Pro-Plan Construction
Cost: $1 million
Opened: December 1974


August 7, 1974, Winnipeg Free Press

Portage Place or Eaton Place there was the Merchant Mart, downtown Winnipeg's first stand-alone shopping mall.

It was built in 1974 to offer a unique space for budding entrepreneurs, especially new immigrants, to open their own shop. The units were around 600 square feet each, though interior walls could be removed to double the size, and rented for an affordable $500 per month. For that price owners got their own separate address, street entrance and display window. There is also an enclosed hall running down the centre of the building accessible off of Ellice Avenue.

Mitchell in 1982

The man who built the mall was Alex Mitchell through his Omega Realty company. It was perhaps his way of giving back some of the same opportunities that he had.

Mitchell was born to a poor Jewish immigrant family in New York City and at the age of 7 began working with his father selling small goods on the family's pushcart. At 15 he found himself in Winnipeg and after just a few years had a seat on the Grain Exchange, opened Dayton's department store in a former hairdressing shop on Portage Avenue and was on his way to becoming one of the largest property owners in the downtown.

December 12, 1974, Winnipeg Free Press

Merchandise Mall opened in December 1974 with the expected eclectic mix shops and services but it only operated under that name for a couple of years. In 1976 Omega amalgamated half of the small units into one big block for lease then "Merchandise Mart" disappeared. C
lassifieds advertising the lease or sublease of individual addresses appear for decades to come.

At some point 338 Ellice was renamed the Alabama Building. I cannot find a record of it but considering that the logo has always been the same as the country super group Alabama, I'll guess the mid 1980s.

Tenants in the large retail space have included INCO employment offices in the 1970s and a string of cafes: Fifi's and Jade Garden in the '80s; Mini Café World in the '90s and Yenat and Kokeb Ethiopian Restaurants in the '00s. The smaller spaces have remained an eclectic mix of gift shops and food boutiques and continues to refelct the immigrant community that live in the area.

2011 map, source: CentreVenture report

2012 map, source Centrepoint brochure

In 2011 there was a formal announcement of the Longboat Development project that included an Alt Hotel and multi-level parkade on the south side of the block. Since that time, plans have expanded to include two housing towers, one would be built where the Alabama Building, (which Longboat owns), now sits.

Alabama Building

Though a formal announcement has not been made Trades Labour Corporation, a large tenant since 2006, recently moved out and the windows have been boarded up. This has led to speculation that the Alabama's days are numbered.

My Alabama Building photo gallery


  1. I seem to recall a short-lived sports card shop there in the late 80s but I could be wrong about the location. (I remember thinking $3 was far too much to pay for a Guy LaFleur rookie card once when I was in there.)

  2. Yes, I remember that place as well. Phoenix Sports or something like that. Good for you showing him up like that ;)

  3. I remember Pendragon (the gaming/sci-fi store) being on the inside part in the late 80s and on the side near the Air Canada bldg there was Amazing Books and Collectibles