For decades, Cadillacs, Mustangs and Audis have slept in the Exchange District for repairs and conversions.
Today, a Winnipeg mechanic envisions a new use for his shop – one that sees it filled with milk and produce instead of wrenches and tires.
“There’s no grocery store here,” said Andy Baranowski, owner of JW McDonald Auto Service. “Where are you going to get your milk?”
The building at 189 Bannatyne Avenue has been an auto repair garage for nearly a century, since 1923, according to the Manitoba Historical Society.
“A lot of people live (now) in the area,” he said. “I know – I get a lot here.”
He sells his shop and does not want the site to continue as JW McDonald Auto Service under new ownership.
“We always try to do everything right and make sure the quality is there,” he said. “We don’t know what (buyers) are going to look like.”
The 3,000 square foot garage is approximately 500 yards from Portage and Main. The fine food retailer Mottola Grocery on Hargrave Street and small convenience stores are the only grocery options nearby.
Leah Arnott brought her Honda Civic to Baranowski for years.
She is an interior designer. When she learned that the repair site was closing, she offered to create a rendering of what the place might be. The design is in progress.
“It’s a machine shop, isn’t it – who’s going to walk in and see it differently?” said Arnott.
Industrial windows could replace garage doors, Arnott said. The building could be lighter and salvaged brick could be added.
“There should be a really good neighborhood vibe,” she said. “I don’t think there’s really anything like this in Winnipeg that I have a vision for.
Arnott has worked with De Luca’s and Ellement Wine + Spirits, among others. The Exchange District garage has the potential to be a different “cute little building,” not just a grocery store, she noted.
Getting rezoned to do a grocery store is “not insurmountable,” Arnott said.
The site would need to have appropriate commercial zoning and meet certain building code requirements to be approved for occupancy, according to Kalen Qually, a spokesperson for the City of Winnipeg.
“I don’t see it as a super high-end little grocery store,” Arnott said. “This is not what the neighborhood needs.
Residences are scattered throughout the downtown area and the Exchange District, including Bannatyne Avenue, Waterfront Drive and Main Street.
Arnott said he would miss the auto service center.
“(Baranowski has) been such a good mechanic all these years,” she said. “He’s very honest and it’s a great little shop.”
Baranowski got his first taste of JW McDonald Auto Service as a child, when his father took Buicks in for repair.
The store was under the control of John McDonald, the company’s namesake. McDonald took over the longtime site in the early 1960s, according to the Manitoba Historical Society.
“(McDonald) says, ‘Kid, never get into this business,'” Baranowski said. “I was about 12 at the time and I was like, ‘Ah, no, I like that. “”
Later he started at the Winnipeg shop as an apprentice and remained there. Downtown lawyers and white-collar workers brought their vehicles in for tune-ups and repairs.
“There will be the grandfathers who came, the fathers, the sons, the daughters,” said Stefan Baranowski, Andy’s brother and mechanic at the workshop.
“We didn’t even really advertise,” he said.
Andy Baranowski left the store for British Columbia with his family. He returned five years later, in 1987, and purchased the company from McDonald’s.
“(Customers) drove Buicks, Cadillacs, things like that,” Baranowski noted. “They all evolved into Audis, Beemers, Mercedes, so you have to evolve with them.”
Still, his three-and-a-half-year-old team — the shop sometimes had an apprentice — saw plenty of old cars, even in his final month.
At the end of June, mechanics had hoisted a burgundy 1971 Rolls-Royce for work.
The pandemic hasn’t affected business for more than a week, Baranowski said. The 67-year-old is closing up shop because he wants to retire and travel.
“The cancer might come back, I don’t know,” said Baranowski, who had stomach cancer in 1997. “I don’t want to work here when that happens.”
His brother expressed his sadness at the end of the auto shop.
“There’s a lot of history here,” he said. “It’s been almost part of downtown for so long it’s going to be weird to see it disappear and something else take its place.”
JW McDonald Auto Service will continue operations until the hoists — which were sold in late June — are removed from the building, Baranowski said.
Gabby is a huge fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.
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