By Alyson Queen –
Last month, the Kitchissippi Times did what we often do – we asked for your input on our Facebook page. This time, it was about vacant storefronts in Kitchissippi and what shops and services readers would like to see in those spaces.
The post, which featured a photo of the building on the corner of Roosevelt Avenue and Richmond Road – once home to American Apparel, a beauty supply store, and a Royal Bank – kickstarted a flurry of comments and debate. Although there were certainly lots of ideas regarding what could be in Westboro, two issues surfaced: Are we supporting what already is in Westboro Village? And is this place we call home supportive of small business, from costs to clientele?
On the Facebook post, there were numerous requests for an independent magazine and bookstore along the lines of the shuttered Britton’s. Some readers would welcome some larger chains such as Tim Horton’s or Old Navy. A fresh seafood shop was also a popular suggestion. Some commenters mentioned they’d like to see shops that sell fresh bread, meat, and cheese.
Dave Neil, owner of the Piggy Market, a popular destination for locals that recently celebrated its 8th anniversary, followed the discussion with interest.
“Looking through that Facebook post, three requests were for what we already offer – butchery, cheese, and take home food. It’s what we do,” he says.
Without question, businesses don’t survive without customers. But Dave thinks there is a bigger issue reflected in those vacant storefront windows: the cost of rent.
“I think there have been a lot of vacancies for the last three years. We’re seeing a lot of the small businesses leaving – and leaving because [business owners] can’t afford the rent,” says Dave. “People want more food options, but when you could be paying $65/square foot between rent and operating costs, it’s difficult to make any money.” To put it in context, “imagine how many loaves of bread you have to sell,” he adds.
Molly van der Schee, owner of Village Quire on Richmond Road, is not only a local shop owner, but a resident as well. “85% of what I need [to buy] can be found here,” says Molly.
In all of this, Molly sees opportunity. Although she has been operating the Village Quire for six years and has a good relationship with her landlord, she recognizes that the experiences and costs can vary significantly for her peers.
“We need to sit down and have a conversation about this. There must be example cities where the municipality and others work together to try to protect the small businesses,” she says.
On the other hand, you don’t have to wander far to see new life and “open for business” signs in the area.
Quelque Chose, the new French patisserie and café serving up its famous macarons, is one example.
Having just opened his second location in Ottawa, owner and operator Dave Seba says Westboro was an obvious choice to complement his Vanier location.
“Feedback from our customers was that they wanted us west. I love Richmond Road, I see a lot of pedestrian traffic and that is something you want as a business. You want to be an option that they think of,” he reflects. But it comes at a price.
“The rent is high, I won’t lie,” says Dave. “But you get people in the door so that’s good. There is a lot of potential in this location.”
Talking about all that Westboro offers, with new and existing businesses, brings Dave Neil back to ensuring that people know of and support the shops that are already here.
“Westboro is pretty tight knit, and word of mouth works. But we also need to get people who don’t normally shop the neighbourhood and engage them a bit better.”
Molly agrees. “Being in business, it’s important we support each other. Keep your eyes open to what is available. If you’re looking for a great place to buy bread, ask,” she says.