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
Before Portage Place or Eaton Place there was the Merchant Mart, downtown Winnipeg's first stand-alone shopping mall.
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. Classifieds 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.
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.
My Alabama Building photo gallery