The State of… Downtown Sidestreets (Part 2 of 3)

downtown, Kingston, OntarioSince publishing last week’s snapshot of lower Princess Street, and comparing those results against what we’ve recorded in years past, it’s abundantly clear that our downtown’s main thoroughfare has a higher number of vacancies and a staggering number of new contenders slash relocations. In fact, the number of vacancies observed was the second highest on record in comparison to results in 2009, 2011 and 2013. Similarly, the number of new businesses setting up shop and relocations along lower Princess was equally impressive, nearly doubling the previous record set back in 2011. That’s all to say that, in spite of the pending Big Dig that will soon envelop a large portion of Princess Street, entrepreneurs continue to take a chance and find a way to make it work.

In our second episode exploring our downtown’s vacancies, store closures, new additions and promised openings, we turn to active side streets from Ontario to Division and all parts in between. With Ontario and King Street rents rivaling the highest commercial rents along Princess Street, there’s certainly room for comparing apples to apples. That said, there are some small segments that offer extremely affordable rent, which are less than 20 feet from Princess. Would you take the chance and relocate a bit off the beaten path, or bite the bullet and absorb much higher rent in order to capitalize on greater foot traffic? Read on as we explore the state of downtown Kingston’s sidestreets.

Closures and Vacancies: 16 in 2015. Compare that to 15 in 2009, 12 in 2011 and 15 in 2013.

  • 263 Ontario Street: always amazed by the amount of turnover on the main floor of this seemingly perfectly situated building. It’s smack dab in between City Hall and the ferry terminal. It’s tourist central.
  • Soundworks, 101-275 Ontario Street: the closure of this downtown music store slash equipment rental space was truly unforeseen. Luckily, they’ve remained downtown with their new storefront on a quiet stretch of Rideau.
  • Earth to Spirit, 340 King Street: I always enjoyed browsing the many treasures of this worldly boutique. From polished stone to the oversized metal giraffe sculpture out front, it certainly drew people in off the street.
  • 78 Brock Street: a prime address on one of Kingston’s most gorgeous and well travelled downtown blocks. With company like Cooke’s and Le Chien Noir just to name a few, we can expect something fancy to end up here.
  • 165,167, 169-171 Wellington Street: the ongoing renovation of this group of adjoinging buildings has been impressive to watch unfold. With gold paint flare around the windows, they’re pulling out all the stops to wow.
  • The Sweet Retreat, 207A Wellington Street: one block closer to the K-Rock Centre, perhaps this place would have worked. Clearly the patrons at the Duke and Green Door Vitamins don’t have insatiable sweet tooths.
  • 4 Colour 8 Bit, 208 Wellington Street: on paper, the hop down Princess Street seemed to make sense. Did they move too far from students, or was the sidestreet less successful in attracting walkins? Rent shuffle?
  • Weight Watchers, 209 Wellington Street: this longstanding franchise seemed to prefer their other location at Gardiners Road when the decision came to lighten the load and close one of their meeting centres.
  • Liquid Nutrition, 236 Wellington Street: they opened to a great deal of buzz, closed temporarily to do some upgrades then faded away without any notice as to why. The space has sat vacant ever since.
  • Card’s Bakery, 300-306 Bagot Street: let’s all take a moment to celebrate this vacancy. What a great move on the part of Card’s Bakery, who is now hard to miss with their amazingly renovated store on Princess. Yum!
  • 314 Bagot Street: the Seaway building (owned by Springer) seems to always have a vacancy or two. With the big dig set to break up business on the main drag, perhaps we’ll see a few relocations to areas such as this.
  • Youth Centre, 20 Montreal: I was surprised to see this youth centre open, but not surprised to see it close.  It’s the wrong neighbourhood slash too far away from those who would use this sort of resource.
  • 39 Montreal: a boutique slash consignment store of some sort used to occupy this unassuming storefront. They probably enjoyed cheaper rent, but suffered due to the lack of foot traffic.
  • 181 Sydenham Street: let’s not assume that the closure of a sewing machine repair shop means Kingstonians are no longer stitching and darning garments. Owners were looking to make serious alterations to high rent.
  • Central Laundromat, 170 Division Street: with more and more luxury and basic rentals offering in-unit laundry machines, it’s no surprise coin operated establishments are going out of style and out of business.
  • 394-398 Division Street: tucked away from Division Street, this building was once home to The Beach (tanning) and another laundromat. A vacant ground floor with the upstairs making way for Harford Luxury Apartments.

Additions, Relocations and Coming Soon: 31 in 2015. Compare that to 15 in 2009, 15 in 2011 and 28 in 2013.

  • Aji Sai Sushi, 178 Ontario Street: Brandee’s seemed to always do okay with the business they pulled in, but it was rarely packed. When the music finally stopped, this all you can eat sushi spot was quick to move in.
  • Blu Martini, 180 Ontario Street: to be honest, I don’t think this spot has ever done well since it was the Cocamo. It has since struggled with an identity crisis, straddling the line between posh night club and restaurant.
  • Apsara Angkor, 189 Ontario Street: this Thai restaurant is perched on prime real estate. Since opening it has earned a relatively positive ranking on TripAdvisor, with many complimentary comments about the menu.
  • Waterfront Gifts and Apparel, 248 Ontario Street: after Flare went up in smoke, we weren’t too sure just how long we’d have to wait for new life. This unique gift shop slash ticket booth is the perfect fit.
  • Jimmy Hair Studio, 250 Ontario Street: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: just how do all of these hair studios and salons stay open? Another piece of prime real estate where you can get coiffed.
  • Viola European Esthetics, 252 Ontario Street: second to salons and sushi, Kingston has what I assess to be an over abundance of esthetic establishments. Or maybe I’m just in need of a place like this for dudes.
  • Inner Harbour, 259 Ontario Street: grab a drink at the Merch, and head on over to this new spot for a tat.
  • Welsh and Company, 261 Ontario Street: this leading professional services firm provides personal and corporate tax services, business advise, forensic accounting, and more. A solid, multi-city firm.
  • Moksha Yoga, 103-17 Ontario Street: this addition to Smith & Robinson is associated with a group of environmentally conscious yoga studios offering entirely unique, hot yoga experience. Some like it hot.
  • APx Indoor Cycling, 103-? Ontario Street: while the weather may be fine for cycling outdoors at this time of year, many will undoubtedly flock to this newish cycling gym for a great workout when winter strikes.
  • Chic Hair and Esthetics Centre, 331 King Street: have I mentioned Kingston’s many hair and esthetic shops?
  • Chic Dry, 350 King Street: no coincidence that there’s another hair salon on the list. In all seriousness though, these spaces represent jobs and local business owners helping our downtown thrive.
  • Sushibar Da, 354 King Street: when Maru opened, I was pretty sure the writing was on the wall. A space that was too huge and a menu that appealed to few. Sushi may be a safer bet, but it’s still way too big.
  • City + Cargo, 60 Brock Street: while I’m not searching for a new bag, I was totally impressed by this place. From the extremely knowledgeable salesman, to their process and willingness to repair, it’s in the bag.
  • Koru, 66 Brock Street: this art annex and studio boasts a wide selection of art created by artists from Kingston and the surrounding area. They believe in “Art For Everyone” and I believe they’re here to stay.
  • Musiiki, 73 Brock Street: a hub of music, coffee and whiskey. This quaint slice of real estate boasts one of the most active stages in the entire city. Too bad they had to close up their amazing back patio.
  • K-Town Kups, 82 Brock Street: I recognize that many of you may have Keurigs and what not, and that this place fills a need, but I still don’t buy in to single serving coffee and its wasteful packaging.
  • General Brock’s Commissary, 86 Brock Street: if Cooke’s had a baby with a British accent, it would be this place. Sporting an impressive array of edibles highlighting the tastes of Upper Canada.
  • Sugar Swan, 197 Wellington Street: a few doors down, another sweet retreat closed up shop after not enough patronage. I hate to be a skeptic, and I hope they prove me wrong, but I just can’t see this lasting.
  • Martello Alley: without a doubt one of my favourite new downtown establishments. So many finds carefully crammed into this unique space, including wonderful prints of local landmarks by Kingston’s own M.P. Tully.
  • Sally’s Roti, 203 Wellington Street: another fast rising star of TripAdvisor, this spot ranks in the top 30 with many glowing remarks. Simple and functional décor with perfectly spiced and priced roti/curry for all.
  • Salon 296, 296 Bagot Street: if I were to tell you that this place was formerly a hair salon, I bet you’d be skeptical. Believe it or not, Lulus used to call this place home. Simple name change or something more?
  • Improbably Escapes, 298 Bagot Street: this place may be hard to find, but once you’re inside you’ll need both luck and wit to navigate your way out. A neat team building or birthday party activity.
  • Anna Lane, Queen and Bagot: first there was a hole then there was an unfinished building. We’re thrilled to see shrubs and balconies and residents finally moving in to this unique, downtown condominium.
  • The Wave, 41 Montreal Street: when our readers voted Caribbean a highly desirable cuisine that’s missing from the food scene, we were pleased to see Bay Jam emerge, but they faded quickly. Is the successor here to stay?
  • 105 Clergy Street: it’s always sad to see long standing businesses close up shop, but such is the case for Ben’s Pub. Since closing, the space has begun a massive transformation into a student rental.
  • The Tower, Clergy and Queen: since our last look at this segment of downtown Kingston, not much has happened with this luxury condominium. We hope this will be shovel ready or in progress soon.
  • Varsity Properties, 339 Barrie Street: student rentals have been replicating faster than rabbits, so it should come as no surprise that one of the larger rental management companies saw a need to expand their offices.
  • Meta Body Works, 336A Barrie Street: formerly Path Yoga, this new holistic health studio is for everything your body needs to heal, repair, and rejuvenate. From Yoga to massage and meditation.
  • Easy Financial, 172 Division Street: I really despise that our downtown has not one, not two but three of these payday loan shops. Taking advantage of those in desperate need, it doesn’t sit well at all.
  • Cash 4 You, 185 Division Street: the first recorded loss of a sushi restaurant on the list, and what do we have here? Another pay day loan store! Say it ain’t so. $21 fee on every $100 you borrow… just wow.

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...

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