A day in the life of the LMR, 2020 edition
September 14, 2020 6:29 PM   Subscribe

So it's been a busy week in the Lower Mainland - Vancouver and surrounding areas - and it's not even Tuesday yet. Surely the week will end better? While the province has weathered the Covid-19 storm better than many areas it was a rough weekend with active cases hitting a new high. Additionally - there's fire, smoke, opiates, train crashes, gondola crashes (??) and an effort to curb out of control insurance rate.

Climate change bolstered wild fires on the pacific coast of North America have brought record setting levels of smoke and smog. While the region is not actively on fire the postal service is also not active due to the smokey conditions. Nor are some of the local schools - recently re-opened in the face of the aforementioned Covid-19 crisis.

Not all of that smoke is imported though - a large suspicious fire has destroyed a local redevelopment site on the Fraser river.

If the new horrors weren't enough headlines remind us of an epidemic still with us as overdoses continue to kill. As noted - in even larger numbers than the highly communicable, deadly, novel, air-born virus.

If things weren't bad enough just inland/upriver (near the satellite community of Hope - not exactly eponymous) a train carrying potash went literally off the rails and a little north in Squamish someone(s) cut the Sea-to-Sky Gondola cable. Again.

So it's been a busy day and a half, lots of bad news, and more must be anticipated as regulatory intervention has been deemed necessary in the face of rapidly increasing insurance rates.

Hopefully this concludes our coverage of recent disasters and there won't be any pending updates for earthquakes (previously), flooding or plagues of (possibly murderous) insects.

Good Night Canada.
posted by mce (23 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
There was also a fairly large anti-mask protest this weekend at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Definitely had a "stare at the wall and try to remember the good times" moment yesterday.
posted by thebots at 7:31 PM on September 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

MEC is being sold to a US investment firm. Yup, all is well.
posted by sardonyx at 7:50 PM on September 14, 2020 [4 favorites]

I've been sort of following the strata insurance situation but I still don't get what's behind the increases.

As far as MEC is concerned, I've dropped by my local store a couple of times in the last few months and their stock levels haven't been very good. I'd heard they'd been having problems, which for bricks and mortar retail isn't surprising, but I'll be sad to see them go. Yes I know they won't be gone, but once they've been gobbled up by private equity they may as well be.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 7:58 PM on September 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

There was also a fairly large anti-mask protest this weekend at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Definitely had a "stare at the wall and try to remember the good times" moment yesterday.

A Vancouver friend posted a bit of video of the parade passing by their location. A dazzlingly incoherent array of signs (Trudeau bad! No to vaccines! Benghazi! Teapot Dome Scandal*!) and a marcher was addressing people over the bullhorn imploring them to take off their masks and breathe the fresh air... the air quality index put Vancouver’s air in the half-a-pack-a-day range yesterday.

posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:05 PM on September 14, 2020 [3 favorites]

Yeah the MEC thing is frustrating as they'd been my go-to spot for all kinds of great stuff you either
  • couldn't get anywhere else
  • couldn't affordably get anywhere else
  • couldn't get anywhere else because they made it and it was great
None of those 3 things appear to be true anymore; haven't been for a while. And they keep discontinuing things I particularly like. Like the mountain logo, which might have been the last thing they "made" that I actually liked.

posted by mce at 8:15 PM on September 14, 2020 [3 favorites]

Aw jeez I hadn’t heard about MEC.

At least it rained a bit today, felt a bit like the goddess Vancouver attempting to soothe her children with something comforting and familiar.
posted by good in a vacuum at 9:06 PM on September 14, 2020

I've dropped by my local store a couple of times in the last few months and their stock levels haven't been very good

My partner works there (well, is furloughed from her job there), and this is almost entirely due to not having enough money to speculatively restock whatever it is people may need in our new weird normal, along with being fairly down the priority list of factories' clients (they're not a huge company) when the factories, which are themselves closing or reducing manufacturing hours, actually make things for them to stock. It's a huge cascade cluster fudge.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 9:07 PM on September 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

Oh also don’t forget the plague of looper moths we’ve been experiencing for the past week or so. I mean they’re harmless but it really adds to the biblical soup we’ve been swimming in.
posted by good in a vacuum at 9:08 PM on September 14, 2020 [4 favorites]

Oh yes! The moth plague! Obviously things here could be worse, but interesting times is barely covering it at the moment.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 9:11 PM on September 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

So, 2020 is doing its thing in Canada as well...

Greetings from Washington!
posted by Windopaene at 10:28 PM on September 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

None of those 3 things appear to be true anymore; haven't been for a while. And they keep discontinuing things I particularly like. Like the mountain logo, which might have been the last thing they "made" that I actually liked.

I like this excellent chart by Muffy Aldrich showing the growth and decline of brands; in the original, preppy clothes, but MEC fits on the curve easily too; in "New Markets" en route to "Cash Grab". (Unfortunately, without the cash I guess.)

The first time I went to MEC was their original Calgary store, a small space upstairs in what is now a Buddhist monastery. I was a school kid who overloaded, abused and destroyed backpacks, and an MEC Classic Book Bag was the first bag that survived an entire year, and then two, and then three. MEC was the weird store downtown that sold bombproof gear to hardcore mountain adventurers.

Over the past 20+ years, they've started mostly selling clothes for people who want to look like they go on outdoor adventures, rather than ones who do go. Even 10 years ago, I'd probably recommend MEC stuff to anyone - all the features you need, none of the ones you don't, you couldn't get better quality for the price. But slowly, things evolved -- every single backpack had a laptop sleeve; they started carrying jeans (not technical pants in a 5-pocket design, actual cotton-kills Levi's); they moved focus from urban to suburban.

MEC has 22 stores now; 10 of the first 11 were built right in the hearts of cities; for example, the Winnipeg one is on Portage, three blocks from Main. In 2017, the Quebec City store moved from downtown to the suburbs; the new Toronto flagship wasn't in the suburbs, but it sure looked like it wanted to be. They've expanded a ton, and almost all to the suburbs - mostly the suburbs of their existing big markets, but even in newer cities like London, Kitchener and Kelowna, they've picked suburban big box locations rather than downtowns.

And now, private equity will I'm sure do what private equity does best -- sucking out the remaining value by selling shittier and shittier stuff based on the established reputation of the brand until the brand is worthless.

Used to be easy to find fellow Canadians when travelling abroad; it wasn't that they'd sewn a maple leaf on their bag, it was the two-triangle mountain.
posted by Superilla at 10:33 PM on September 14, 2020 [6 favorites]

MEC is being sold to a US investment firm. Yup, all is well.

This was kind of inevitable, because the current board decided a few years ago that it would be a really great idea for MEC to branch out into lifestyle goods as opposed to being a pure outdoors-sport/camping store, and that it would be a great idea for MEC to break into suburban markets with big-box stores, and both of these ideas were gratuitously stupid. MEC is basically broke at this point and needs an influx of capital in order to stay operating, which means selling out. Hooray.
posted by mightygodking at 11:44 PM on September 14, 2020 [3 favorites]

Lot of Vancouver people o/

I've pretty much replaced MEC with VPO -- if you're good with Purolator for shipping they're pretty fantastic. Plus, they ship things in completely random recycled boxes, which is kinda of a dumb thing to enjoy but I do none-the-less. Alpine Start is also next door, so you double your odds of finding things you can't order online like stove gas or bear spray.

The Sea-to-Sky gondola is nuts. I'm not sure the blurb here does it justice: someone is cutting a metal cable with a hand held angle grinder while its under immense load. When that cable snaps its not hard to imagine it cutting someone in half -- and they did it twice! I haven't even heard a plausible theory as to why someone would do it either. There's a history of direct action environmentalists going back to the 80s, but they haven't been active (to my knowledge) in like 20 years, and the gondola seems like an odd target considering the dams and pipelines going in. The best guess I've been able to come up with is mentally ill disgruntled employee -- though if anyone has better rumors I'd love to hear them.

Also, if you didn't click the train derailment link, "derailment" massively undersells it. It looks more like someone just wanted to created a mountain out of twisted metal. It's incredible no one was killed.
posted by yeahwhatever at 12:17 AM on September 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

Rather than MEC, I was always a Taiga guy, but maybe that has to do with only really going to that sort of place for rain gear. I think I've always had some sort jacket from them going on 30+ years.
posted by juv3nal at 1:47 AM on September 15, 2020

The whole MEC thing is so weird and just doesn't add up to me. MEC is a co-op, owned by the members, but somehow the board has decided to sell the whole thing to a private equity firm without bringing anything at all to the members.

On Feb 24, MEC had $35M in debt, $250M in capital assets (including $95M in real estate) and nearly $100M in inventory and reported $190M in shareholder equity. Now, MEC has $70M in debt and somehow has to sell everything to private equity. Did they really manage to destroy $120M in shareholder equity in just over half a year? Did they really manage to put themselves underwater so quickly? The company reported a profit just 18 months ago!

Was there an attempt made to restructure the co-op under bankruptcy protection if things were so bad or did they just decide to sell the whole thing out from under the members? The Globe & Mail article makes it sound like the board wants to sell because they think the buyer will keep 17 stores open.

I hope a lot more becomes public about this soon and members have a chance to actually vote on what happens next. A longstanding co-op shouldn't just be sold to some private equity firm without any of the members even being able to look at the deal.
posted by ssg at 3:21 AM on September 15, 2020 [11 favorites]

If this is getting derailed by MEC discussion, I can at least plead that a lot of other kids are doing it.

MEC had a presence in Edmonton, then they moved plus opened another location. The news that MEC has been acquired by a private equity firm (or whatever we want to call these entities) is the cherry on a shit sundae that, in my experience, is the story of late-Edmonton MEC. I found the staff to be increasingly like any box-store outlet staff, vs. the early days when a lot of people working MEC seemed to have an interest and passion for different outdoor activities: they used the gear, they enjoyed telling you what they liked/disliked about it, etc. I can't speak to the degree to which product was ethically sourced, but the price point increasingly seemed to diverge from quality, and more and more it resembled a lifestyle outlet in the worst possible way. For me MEC illustrates the perversion of good ideas with this recent news.
posted by elkevelvet at 7:21 AM on September 15, 2020

Correcting myself here, it turns out the figures I quoted above are a year out of date (from Feb 2019, not this Feb). It seems MEC didn't even release their financials to members this year, which is pretty grim.
posted by ssg at 9:41 AM on September 15, 2020

I stopped shopping at MEC years ago when, as a size 16 woman, I couldn't zip up the largest size they had in raincoats. I realized that they weren't interested in outfitting all bodies who wanted to play outside, only those they found aesthetically pleasing. So I took all my business elsewhere and haven't looked back.
posted by twilightlost at 10:51 AM on September 15, 2020

Hey just a quick note: the owner of Taiga is associated with antisemitism, might want to pass on future rain gear from them. Arc'teryx is also local and has a discount shop in north van where you can frequently find good stuff, but even marked down 50% it's expensive as hell. On the upside, their warranty is superb and will basically replace things with no questions and at no cost.
posted by yeahwhatever at 12:36 PM on September 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

The story I heard about MEC is that in the 90s they were an outdoor retailer with a few small locations and knowledgeable longtime staff, and a corporate board of outdoors enthusiasts. It turns out the outdoor enthusiasts weren't super good at running a national chain, so the MBAs were brought in. The MBAs wanted to expand away from outdoors gear into a broader appeal of "lifestyle" outdoors stuff, essentially start competing with Canadian Tire/Walmart/Amazon. This coincides with the new logo/rebrand, and a lot of the longtime staff leaving. What we're seeing is that MEC is not super good at competing in this space, and in attempting to they've burned their traditional core outdoors customer base.

From hanging out with a bunch of outdoors people they all shop pretty much the same way. Either they know what they want and will buy from literally wherever has the cheapest price, or they want to walk into a brick and mortar store and talk to someone with relevant experience, in which case they buy the gear there. MEC used to be the latter, and is now failing at being the former.

Part of what makes this so interesting to me is I bet if you look at the numbers for an outdoor gear shop their sales will indicate that aspirational/casual customers (e.g. buying expensive technical clothing they don't need to walk around the city) are the majority. It makes complete sense to try to cater to them -- there are more of them and they spend more money than the cheap dirtbags. However, all those people know how to to shop online and are only going to gear shops because of their brand/reputation, meaning that if you cater to them you end up losing them as customers because the brand no longer has the same cachet to them.

Anywho, that's all speculation and rumors in an areas I know very little about, but would love to hear more if someone knowledgeable wants to correct me.
posted by yeahwhatever at 1:03 PM on September 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

the owner of Taiga is associated with antisemitism

posted by juv3nal at 4:29 PM on September 15, 2020

the owner of Taiga is associated with antisemitism

Buy Summit Ice instead (backstory)
posted by Gortuk at 7:13 AM on September 17, 2020

The MEC court materials have been posted here. From reading MEC's CEO's affidavit it really looks like their expansion in 2015 put them in a bad spot and then Covid came and finished them off.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 4:52 PM on September 18, 2020

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