The State of… Upper Princess (Part 3 of 3)

for lease on Kingston, downtown Kingston businessesLate last December we launched a three-part series which documented vacant storefronts, recent relocations as well as new businesses in downtown Kingston.  In part one we combed lower Princess Street from Ontario to Division, highlighting unfortunate closures such as S&R and Downtown Kingston Sports, as well as positive growth including Urban Outfitters and Sima Sushi.  Our second episode took aim at downtown side streets, while it celebrated new additions such as The Iron Duke, The Kitschen and Dwell Boutique.

Thus far, this series has generated an outstanding conversation, which proves that many people are concerned about the current state, and future composition of downtown Kingston.  The time has come for our final snapshot, which will focus on upper Princess Street, or midtown if you prefer, specifically the section between Division and Bath Road.  A general guide to our area of interest is highlighted in red on the map, which is displayed above.

Recent Closures and Vacancies

  • Jumbo Video, 168 Division Street: this DVD and game rental chain used to lure customers in with free popcorn.  Jumbo boarded up this location a long time ago and now operates out of the Kingston Centre.
  • Open Text, 544 Princess Street: did you know that the largest Canadian-based software-centric company has an office in Kingston?  Sadly Open Text moved from the downtown to Gardiners Road.
  • 7 Eleven/Esso, Princess and Alfred: we’ve heard conflicting reports as to why 7 Eleven and Esso couldn’t get along.  Regardless, the downtown was left with one less gas station and another vacant lot.
  • Antique Dealer, 571 Princess Street: this was once a paradise for hoarders and pack rats alike.  The red brick building is now on the market boasting two commercial and seven residential units.
  • Budget Car Rental, 601 Princess Street: one of many vacant automotive lots in downtown Kingston.
  • Sunoco, Princess and Nelson: the second former gas station on this stretch of Princess.  In light of underground storage tanks and environmental concerns, how soon will we see anything happen here?
  • Vacant Lot, Princess and Nelson: it’s hard to believe, but a Keg steakhouse used to be here.  The building was levelled some time ago, leaving us with another magnet for garbage and shopping carts.
  • Vacant Storefront, 662 Princess Street: the first vacant Springer owned property we noticed on our magical mystery tour.  It’s definitely not the most attractive building, so vacancies are expected.
  • Vacant Storefront, 668 Princess Street: another gem brought to you by the Springer Group of Companies.
  • Hertz Rental Car, Victoria and Princess: the second abandoned car rental property on this strip.
  • Toyota Dealership, Victoria and Princess: a long time ago, Toyota pulled the plug on their downtown dealership, and relocated out Bath Road near Frontenac Secondary.  Another massive void to be filled.
  • Vacant Storefront, 728 Princess Street: in this instance the vacant storefront makes a lot of sense.
  • Vacant Storefront, 847 Princess Street: while this may not be the most attractive building, it’s certainly not the worst we’ve seen.  Lot’s of room at this location, and it’s steps away from the acclaimed Star Diner.

Recent Additions and Relocations

  • Unnamed Sushi Restaurant, 168 Division Street: as reported above, Jumbo Video used to call this building home.  A freshly posted notice indicates that it will be transformed into a sushi resto.
  • Arisu, 185 Division Street: the former home of Dixie Lee and Spaghetti is Ready was recently transformed into yet another sushi restaurant.  Get ready to spot a trend as we make our way up the street.
  • The Spot, 394 Princess Street: Smijies became the Smij, which then became Bar None, which is now called The Spot.  Someone is bet and bound to make a student-friendly bar work at this location.
  • Legendz, 424 Princess Street: when the owners of the Griz/Stages/Alehouse etc… terminated Gusto’s, we wondered what could possibly step in to fill the void.  The owners of Lino’s answered the call with Legendz, however they’ve been having some problems with their liquor licence as of late.
  • Iron Legends, 432 Princess Street: this business has a colourful storefront, while they offer a strange mix of products and services ranging from motorcycle parts  to tattoos, body piercing and more.
  • Green Tray, 461 Princess Street: I’ve heard good things about this chic new resto.  Can’t wait to try it out.
  • Cyclepath, 471 Princess Street: Cyclepath moved from 354 Princess St to this new location.  In light of the closure of Downtown Kingston Sports, this downtown bike shop is desperately needed.
  • Izumo, 499 Princess Street: Discover Japan was a hole in the wall that used to serve some outstanding sushi.  Nowadays, the place has a brand new look and feel, while it goes by the name of Izumo.
  • The Mansion, 506 Princess Street: after failed attempts by the Peel Pub and Filthy McNasty’s, this iconic building is once again bustling with activity, thanks in part to the live music in their Living Room.
  • Olympic Barber Shop, 521 Princess Street: Olympic disappeared a few years ago when it was renamed Dino’s Barbershop.  It recently resurfaced in this new, student-friendly location.
  • Change Health Care, 559 Princess Street: an addiction treatment clinic that’s focused on counselling and treating people who are addicted to opiates (heroin, morphone, percocet etc…).
  • The Jewellery Box, 637 Princess Street: we were sad to see the Hind Quarter close up shop, but we’re happy to see The Jewellery Box slide in to fill the void.  I believe this is a pawn shop of sorts.
  • Gold n Pawn, 637 Princess Street: another pawn shop, which moved in after the Hind Quarter closed.
  • Xanadu Music, 647 Princess Street: one of many downtown music shops and schools.
  • Howard Johnson, 686 Princess Street: this hotel presently operates as a Rest Inn, however a banner on the storefront indicates that it will soon become a Howard Johnson.
  • Sushi Ya, 766 Princess Street: another former location of Dixie Lee, purveyors of fried chicken, which has since been transformed into sushi restaurant.  We’ve tested Sushi Ya, and we approve!
Interested in learning more about the state of downtown Kingston? Check out the 2015 edition of this series.

Harvey Kirkpatrick

Harvey Kirkpatrick is Kingstonist's Co-Founder. His features curiously explore urban planning, what if scenarios, the local food scene and notable Kingstonians. Loves playing tourist and listening to rap music. Learn more about Harvey...

19 thoughts on “The State of… Upper Princess (Part 3 of 3)

  • A note on the building at 728 Princess St – It used to be home to Action Packed Comics… Which relocated to the building next door and expanded.

    • Good observation. My memory of this part of Princess is not the best. There really isn't a heck of a lot to encourage foot traffic, so I've rarely walked these blocks. As for the building, Action Packed certainly didn't upgrade by moving next door. I would love to see these buildings demo'd and something a bit more welcoming to move in. With the number of vacant lots on this stretch of Princess hopefully there will be some nice development in the future. A stretch….?

  • What's with ESSO in this city. The one on Gardiners road closed too. There's only one left and it's at the 401. Lineups for car washes there are insane now.

    P.S. logging in with openid isn't working. I use my google openid everywhere else with the following url and it works

    • Yeah I noticed that the Esso on Gardiners also closed. Coincidence, or are they downsizing? Seems odd.

      Sorry about the login issues. We'll take a look and see what can be done.

  • Can't say I am too sad about the closing down of car lots and Esso garages… there are far better uses of downtown urban space than yet more car culture.

    Cyclepath probably is a great shop, but who knows? They decided not to open for the entire month of January, so my money went elsewhere and I doubt I will bother going again. There is a rather weird lack of interest in customers' needs amongst rather too many shops in Kingston… and then they seems surprised when business drops and they have to close. When I needed bike parts in the first week of January, I also found Gears and Grinds closed for two weeks for stocktaking… don't they have a proper inventory system? That kind of thing should be done over the weekend or at most in a couple of days. Well, they lost my several hundred dollars of business too. Anyway, Frontenac Cycles had everything I needed, they were open, it's a quirky place and the owner is nice guy.

    And the increase in sushi places? It's fashion, it will pass. They'll all be Shanghai-style easteries in 20 years time (or something else…).

    But this section of Princess Street lacks any real focus or identify in the way that the lower half has. The only really good thing about it is The Mansion which is easily the best music venue in town (including the Grad Club), with a great variety of live stuff, reasonable food and good beer. Long may it continue…

    • I fully agree that this section of town has a strange identity. The new trends seem to be sushi, abandoned car rentals and empty lots. None of this, including some of the sushi spots will last. Further, the abundance of available land is promising, but scary at the same time. It needs to be developed right, and in my mind, it would be nice to see some exciting stores take up residence here. It would certainly help in expanding/stretching out the downtown…but who's willing to gamble.

      • In the 4 years I have lived in Kingston, I've always found this stretch of road a bit on the depressing side. Reflecting about what has been bulldozed or moved in the last few years, things are definitely the worst I have seen them.

        It really needs a mass re-development, because I agree with Harvey……which exciting new stores are going to take up residence there on their own? Quite the gamble, even with cheaper rent than lower Princess.

  • I agree with you entirely on the bike front. I'm so tired of these stores being closed all the time. It gives me the impression that you have to be in some sort of club to know when you can and can't buy from them. I'm about to buy a new speed bike and Frontenac has my business all the way.

    I also agree that The Mansion is a saving grace, and better than The Grad Club. As much as the GC has its quirks, it's getting old and a little too smelly. For the money we pay to get in there, more than 25 people should be able to see the stage. Props to Virginia for getting in great acts but I think a renovation is in order.

  • I could really go for a gas station downtown. And I want Spaghetti Is Ready back! Guess what they put in when it left? Sushi. Just what we needed.

    And I know it’s on a slightly different subject, but it would make me unduly happy if people would remember that the left lane ends not 100m after Bath and Princess. Especially in this weather, being cut off at the last minute? Fun times.

  • The empty lot where the Keg (and Biggs before that) was at one point planned to be home to an apartment building geared towards students. I believe it was planned to be an 8 story building with mostly 1 and 2 bedroom apartments. I lived across the street when the empty building burned down and hoped it meant the new building was one step closer to reality… unfortunately that was about 6 years ago and there has been no progress or mention of this project.

  • Been there a few years, but that furniture store across from Holy Chow is a nice addition to an otherwise bleek neighbourhood. I went in there last summer and they had some nice stuff that was priced on par with Brick, Leons, etc. They might get some more business though if they cleaned the dirt off their windows. Nothing says "new couch" like mud.

    • That's Inside & Out ) and I cannot say enough good things about them. We bought a couch there a year ago and the service is fantastic. But I agree, those windows could use more frequent cleaning. In their defense, I think it's pretty difficult this time of year, with all the sand and salt used on the roads, and their store being very close to the street.

      • Just an update on Inside Out. They had announced at least a month ago that they intended to move. We speculated with the owner that they might be destined for a downtown location, and suggested that Modern Fuel would be a great, albeit expanded space for them. In the end, they moved to 842 Fortune Crescent, which is on the doorstep of the Invista Centre. A sad loss for the downtown…and I'm anxious to see if they are able to make a go of it in their new location.

  • The upper portion of Princess has become something resembling a ghost town…Its like once you cross Division your in a different city. Hopefully some enterprising entrepeneurs will see the potential of all those empty store fronts and empty lots and do something with them. The city could even potentially take some of those empty lots and make them into green areas…Small parks or patios for people to sit and enjoy. that would at least improve the look of the street. Unfortunately in this current economy people are not so keen on taking risks.

  • I just noticed Green Tray for the first time the other day. (Izumo as well). I'm curious to hear what it is like so hopefully you'll have a chance to review it, Harvey.

    • Green Tray looks so up-market in comparison to everything else round there, you've got to suspect it's a front operation for something… (only joking).

  • A lot of redevelopment needs to happen to Princess between Division and Bath road.

    I am not sure there is a need for so many commercial properties along this route, since the proper downtown core has expanded slightly, leaving little demand for store fronts in this unusual stretch. I think apartments would be the smarter way to go, as there is never any difficulty leasing them with all the students and professionals looking to be close to the downtown core. Apartment buildings (Princess towers excepted) are usually easy on the eyes too. Basically more of what they did with Cec's Chinese restaurant would be ideal – knock down a derelict looking old building and put up a 4-5 floor apartment building, with a single store front at ground level (chez t's in this case), if any at all. Again, they did the same thing at the corner of Barrie and Queen, it was a vacant car lot, and they put up a decent looking apartment building. It's a good direction, but unlikely to happen.

  • I'm a Kingston native who moved away in 1989. I don't get down too much now, but I was there last June, and this stretch of Princess was an absolutely depressing sight. "Upper Princess" had its own role in the community, which was as the strip for auto dealers, gas stations and some of the early fast food places. Many of the new car dealers were here up until the early '70s (the Keg property was the site of University Pontiac Buick until about 1972 for example). I remember it as a busy, active area. I don't know what the solution is, but it's very sad.

  • Kingston needs to stop allowing the f’n Springer family buying up everything in Kingston and then raising the rent and shutting down any small business that doesn’t given them kick back.

    The city is constantly whining about the state of the core but most of the empty lots on downtown princess are owned by these parasites and they are content leaving these spots vacant as long as needed because the city doesn’t fine them for having empty lots rotting away in the core.
    Once the city gets out of bed with this family, and they start getting punished for their shady practices, Kingston will finally start having some small business survive in the core.

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