There appears to be a new trend occurring in downtown Brockville, with once-vacant storefronts now returning to life, with the pandemic possibly playing a part.
It is something Sarah Fisher never thought she would do – open a downtown Brockville business.
“I am nervous, very nervous, but also excited!” Fisher said as she unpacked boxes in her new downtown store at 11 King Street West.
After not being able to find items to fill her nursery, Luella Charlotte Baby Boutique was born, named after her daughter who arrived just four and a half months ago.
“I was on maternity leave from my nursing position and I thought about opening an online baby store and I decided why not just go all in and here we are,” Fisher smiled.
“We’ll be offering lots of Boho and Scandinavian-style baby goods; sourced mostly locally, mostly within North America,” Fisher added.
She realized foot traffic had been increasing in the downtown core, which was perfect for a new opportunity.
“There’s festivals nearly every weekend throughout the summer, the farmer’s market happens just at the end of this block and it’s a full-street affair,” Fisher said. “Tall Ships especially brought in tons of people, and Ribfest is one of my favorites.”
It’s something other new businesses have noticed as well, according to Downtown Brockville BIA Executive Director Jasmine Jasani.
“In 2020 we had 29 vacancies, 29 vacant spots here, and just this year we’ve had 10 grand openings, with five more coming up,” she said. “I’ve noticed people come to life, they’ve opened new businesses and they’re all different.”
Jasani noted a couple of reasons why she thinks the transformation is taking place.
“With the pandemic, there’s been a lot of emphasis on supporting local and staying more at home, visiting your nearby towns,” she said.
“Another reason, I think it’s just giving people the chance to pursue their passions, to start new things and to believe that they can do this,” Jasani added.
Three grand openings are scheduled for this weekend, including HeiNoon Sensual Boutique, a new adult entertainment store on Friday, and Penny’s Jewelery and Sassy Yarns on Saturday.
“From arts, crafts, dance, food, specialty items, candles, everything you’ll find it on this street and I think that’s what’s so beautiful about it, it’s for everyone to come and have a little of something,” Jasani said.
But while some smaller shops have gained new life, the city-owned, 13,000 square foot former Woolworth’s building on King Street, remains empty.
Closed since 2004, residents have called it an eyesore.
“Well, I did as well, and at this current term of council we selected this as a priority project to deal with,” said newly acclaimed Mayor Matt Wren.
“I’m sure the public is thinking nothing’s happening, and projects like this, it’s like a duck on the water, you don’t see much above the surface but the feet are really going below and that’s been the case here,” Wren noted.
He praised Mayor Mike Kalivas on the work he has done with the project, including an exclusive negotiation period in January with a chosen developer.
“Mayor Kalivas said in March he had hoped in a couple months there would be an announcement, we’re a little more than that, but we’re certainly very, very close to announcing the next life of this property and I hope it will be very soon,” he said.
Wren noted the property is beyond repair and will have to be demolished, but hinted new commercial development is coming at the ground level with a mixed-use building above, which could include residential and professional space.
“We chose this developer because they shared that vision and I’m sure that’s what we’ll be seeing,” Wren said.
In response to the new grand openings in 2022 in the downtown, Wren was excited for the future.
“We felt before the pandemic we were really turning the corner downtown and things were going very well,” he said. “Sometimes when you are strong, you bounce back faster. I think the downtown was fairly strong before and we are seeing that.”
“I think our businesses here are resilient and we want to continue to support them,” added Jasani. “It doesn’t mean they’ve had a great time (through the pandemic), it just means that they’ve taken it well and they are really doing their best and are moving ahead.”
For Fisher, she’s excited to finally open on Oct. 1 and welcome customers into her new store.
“I’m hoping this means that more shoppers will come to the downtown core and more frequently,” she said. “More local people, but also people from out of town. More shops means more doors open, more shoppers.”
“It’s personal, it’s unique, you’re usually one of a few shoppers in the store, so it’s not rushed and people like to talk, which is nice,” she smiled.