Whether we care to admit it or not, a good many of us has had at least one aesthetic, angsty phase dominated by hair dye, colourful suspenders and circulation-impairing jeans. To many, certain aspects of this lifestyle evolved in tandem with adulthood, and—for the alternative and curio curious—Sanctuary on Whyte Avenue has been a beacon for this identity, a beacon that is snuffing out its flame at the end of the month.
After 25 years, a change in location, and numerous counter-cultural waves, Sanctuary has decided to close its doors. It’s a choice that long-time owner Darrell Minty is making on his own terms.
“We were coming up on lease renewal and I couldn’t see taking that risk for another five years. There are many factors, but I’m choosing to go out on a high point, instead of going down with the particular vibes of the economy right now,” Minty says.
Minty is no stranger to the changing topography of Whyte Ave, a neighbourhood that during Sanctuary’s inception was a promised land, able to house both retail and hospitality alike, he says. Today the area is seeing a surplus of empty buildings, and repetitive watering holes.
“Everything is moving to the restaurant or bar element, made worse by a general evacuation of the retail dynamic—a dynamic that was well supported for years on the Ave, as well as the desirability to come down to Whyte Ave perpetually hampered by traffic, poor parking and the general fear of the cold,” Minty says.
Apart from this cocktail of customer absence, it would be safe to assume that Whyte Avenue’s ever-cascading rent and gentrification would come into play, but for Minty, it’s not a matter of high rent, but more so the current direction that the neighbourhood is moving in not lining up with his predictions.
“For a long time gentrification seemed like a promised land for retailers,” Minty says.
An area that once dominated numerous city blocks is seeing itself ever constricted as condos eclipse coffee shops and the shared hub between retail and hospitality is becoming more and more obscured.
In the face of this, Minty was able to have Sanctuary adapt to the changing times, yet is saddened by the fact that numerous long time retail locations on the strip may be suffering an adverse impact of the changing landscape.
“There really is no point sacrificing so much when the risk is so much bigger than the reward. You need a model that meets new costs and new support. If you have a model based on behaviour from the year 2000, it’s not going to work anymore,” Minty says.
But only so much blame can be put on the rogue element of the changing consumer landscape and at some point the onus has to be put on the consumer—and as far as today’s standards go—the consumer would rather purchase cat-eye contact lenses and corsets online, rather than make the trip to the neighbourhood curio shop.
“There’s nobody feeding the audience. If you look around the newer generation is doing less and less in terms of shopping outside of home. The other element is how the community is supporting local business, and as of now there are too many places to shop—online retailers and pop-up shops and the like—which waters down the strength of a community shopping in a smaller store,” Minty says.
Minty finds the shop’s closure bittersweet, as he has been a pillar of Whyte Avenue for decades.
“Why fight for as long as I did? This place is like my baby. Even when I lost most of my sight six years ago, I was on the fence about closing, but maintained out of loyalty for my staff and the community,” Minty says.
Minty’s legacy will be recognized throughout the community, but there is no doubt that Edmonton’s remarkably atypical avenue will be losing its sanctuary.
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