When you think of Edmonton, Europe probably isn’t the first thing to jump to mind. There’s the Oilers hockey team, the enormous West Edmonton Mall, the Alberta Legislature and an economy founded on resource extraction.
Sure, there are a number of vibrant, walkable neighbourhoods in Alberta’s capital city (Whyte and Jasper Avenues, to name two), but they’re the exception, not the norm. So when local development firm 76 Group purchased a city lot on 107 Avenue NW, most people probably expected them to turn the former big box furniture store into one of those uninspiring gas station-fast food chains. Instead, they built Manchester Square.
“We’ll never be able to replicate Europe, but we wanted to emulate Europe,” says Giordano Morgulis, vice-president of the family-owned 76 Group, which still has strong ties to their European heritage. “We wanted to add some extra cultural flair to Edmonton. It’s all about the atmosphere.”
So instead of building a simple, rectangular strip mall, they drew up designs for a series of unique brick storefronts, each a different height, different colour, different style. The effect is more than just pleasing to the eye — it encourages community building, inspires creativity, and has turned a nondescript intersection into a new focal point for locals, tourists and influencers alike.
“We did unveil it at the worst possible time, in March 2020,” Morgulis says, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
With the surge in people taking neighbourhood walks at the beginning of the pandemic, locals stumbled across Manchester Square and started taking photos. It became a hotspot for influencers on Instagram and TikTok, and a favourite location for wedding and graduation photos.
“It gave us two years of amazing PR, and now that’s paying off with more local businesses moving in.”
The first tenant to open up shop was Arcadia Brewing Co., which pours local craft beers in a friendly atmosphere. Owner Darren McGeown was inspired by pubs in Northern Ireland, so the European feel of Manchester Square was a fitting venue for his brewery.
“When you come through the doors at the brewery, you can expect to feel like you’re at a block party or BBQ surrounded by old friends,” the Arcadia website writes.
Each storefront at Manchester Square includes a mezzanine as well as a ground-floor space, and Arcadia is using theirs for a live music stage, second bar and added seating. A few doors down, Morgulis says a gourmet pretzel shop will soon be moving in, using their upstairs space for community baking classes.
“We’re focused on attracting local businesses. The local coffee shop, the local bakery, a place where you can get to know the owner and have a feeling of belonging,” he says.
One way developers have encouraged that sense of belonging is by offering space for others to be creative. Tenants have a large degree of flexibility when it comes to interior design and store signage, so strolling the square is an opportunity for discovery. Local artist Alixandra Jade was commissioned to paint two vibrant murals, free to leave her own mark. During construction, the developers encouraged Scorpio Masonry to go off-script and use their own creativity to enhance the unique brick work.
“As developers we know our vision, but it takes the creativity of every person on the team. We didn’t want to handcuff anyone to a specific idea,” Morgulis says.
The result is a burgeoning tourist destination. If travel is about surprise, discovery and culture, the unpredictability of Manchester Square is the perfect place to explore. Like any creative project designed to turn heads, Manchester Square has its skeptics. But Morgulis is choosing to keep his attention on those who are enthusiastic.
“No project is going to please 100 per cent of people, and that’s OK. We’re focusing on the people who love it, who say it’s a breath of fresh air.”