By Brenlee Coates
Olga Pogrebinskaia had what you would think to be the distinct displeasure of crafting Portage Place’s response after its “fan” account propped up.
“I embraced it and said, ‘OK, let’s talk about it,’” says Pogrebinskaia, marketing coordinator of the shopping centre.
“I realized it was someone pushing us to move toward social media. Now we’re a part of the conversation.”
The Portage Place FAN Twitter account sometimes bolstered the mall’s image by dissing Polo Park, though most of its comments were irreverent and, quite often, hilarious.
She admits the way Portage Place was pushed to enter social media wasn’t ideal, but she was glad that the mall was in the forefront of people’s minds.
“I’ve had my frustrations with it,” confesses Pogrebinskaia. “Now I’m a little flattered that we had so many followers.”
Pogrebinskaia’s ability to cut through negativity and see opportunity is exactly why she’s perfect for her role at Portage Place. She sees the challenges for the mall as a chance to make an imprint on Winnipeg and one of its major landmarks.
“It’s all about having a vision and pushing through it, no matter how many hours it takes or how many naysayers it gets,” says Pogrebinskaia. “It just pushes you to do better and better.”
Luckily, Pogrebinskaia isn’t alone in her attempts to reimagine the mall and the downtown core.
“We had so many alliances form over (the fan Twitter account),” she says. “Other businesses, the media, the Downtown BIZ. They picked us up.”
The Downtown BIZ has partnered with Portage Place in dreaming up events and helping boost its image. Their next joint project is erecting a permanent, enclosed patio where the temporary patio sits now.
Though she’s working against some negative perceptions and stereotypes about the downtown mall, Pogrebinskaia didn’t have to combat her own.
“I fell in love with Portage Place when I first came to Canada,” she says.
“It is the first place that you see as a newcomer or if you’re taking the bus.
“It feels so homey.”
Downtown revitalization aside, Pogrebinskaia has a big job to do representing an entire mall and its many tenants, on a lower budget than most.
“For marketing, it’s just a whole different beast,” says Pogrebinskaia. “When you promote, you have to make sure you hit everybody. You’re promoting the community.”
As we linger at Starbucks in Edmonton Court, Pogrebinskaia exchanges a familiar greeting with one of her tenants from Mesh Hair Design.
“I know pretty much all of my tenants by name,” says Pogrebinskaia – though it appears she doesn’t just know their names but knows them.
“People don’t want to deal with a title, they want to deal with a person,” she explains.
Though personalizing interactions comes naturally; “I’m so casual. I will never not be me,” Pogrebinskaia also finds time to interact with visitors to Portage Place – not exactly something that’s expected in her job description.
“I’m at customer service every day. I need to know what my customers want,” says Pogrebinskaia.
Wanting to encourage patronage from her neighbouring businesses and get to know regular patrons, Pogrebinskaia offered a contest over the lunch hour for six days where people “fished” for a chance to win a hot tub.
She worked the event herself, and drew tons of information from even the one or two minutes of interaction she had with visitors.
It’s her above-and-beyond devotion and perseverance that makes Pogrebinskaia stand out at her job.
“My approach has always been, ‘why can’t we?’” she says.
“I understand that downtown Winnipeg isn’t New York, but why can’t it be?”
With new local entrepreneurs moving in shortly, lunch-hour concerts and more events in the works, Pogrebinskaia has helped poise the shopping centre for a revival. “My strategy is to make it for everybody; make people feel welcome.
“I love everything about downtown. You can see it’s really on the uprise and everybody knows it – and people that don’t know it will see it soon.”
Like The Little Engine that Could, Pogrebinskaia may just make a believer out of everyone.