The State of… Lower Princess (Part 1 of 3)

Princess Street, lower Princess, downtown core, vacant stores, opening soon, Kingston, OntarioTwo years ago Kingstonist published a three part series that explored the ever-changing landscape of downtown storefronts, with a specific focus on new business and vacant commercial real estate.  Back in 2009, high taxes, the recession, aging infrastructure as well as competition from new big box outlets were being blamed for the demise of Downtown Kingston Sports and S&R. The loss of these two long-standing fixtures has left a massive hole in the heart of downtown Kingston, while the ongoing shuffle game involving businesses relocating up and down the block also helps keep the vacancy rate up.  Join Kingstonist as we set out to document the vacancies, relocations and additions that have taken place since our 2009 snapshot. In this premier episode, we’ll travel from the very bottom of Princess Street to the Division Street intersection.

Closures and Vacancies

  • Downtown Kingston Sports, 121 Princess Street: 2-storys of sporting goods, Vespas and bikes vanished in 2009. Recently the building got a massive face lift. Looking forward to what the next tenants will offer.
  • The Book Shop, 122 Princess: this storefront has been vacant since our last trip down Princess Street.  While basement properties don’t have the highest visibility, hopefully someone sees potential here.
  • Fabricland, 124 Princess Street: this substantial piece of real estate has sat vacant since 2009.  Thankfully though, it has been randomly used for a variety of community art exhibits.
  • Made 4 You, 126 Princess Street: this purveyor of handmade clothing, knits, pottery, photography and other local treasures relocated to the Sustainability Centre. Sadly both have vanished.
  • The Rocking Horse, 160 Princess Street: toys and such are now being sold at their new location.
  • Serves You Right, 164 Princess Street: although my first visit was mediocre, we came to know this place as a decent little breakfast and lunch spot with really foggy windows.  Set for Peculiar Mrs. Perkins!
  • Dansk, 168 Princess Street: Dansk’s factory outlet closed about two years ago. If I was a betting man, I would put big money on the adjacent 160, 164 and 168 Princess becoming something truly great.
  • Trailhead, 272 Princess Street: if memory serves me correctly, this is the second time Trailhead has moved in the past decade.  This footprint here is big, and ripe for retail.
  • Syd Silvers, 273 Princess Street: what a way to ruin the prom of all those star-crossed lovers. Give this property enough time and it too will be transformed into a Starbucks.
  • Some Health Store, 337 Princess Street:  formerly CD Exchange, then transformed into a place specializing in vitamins, supplements, colon hydrotherapy and other heath-related items.
  • Poutine Place, 341 Princess Street: facing stiff competition from Smoke’s, Five Guys, Harper’s and other long-standing local poutineries, this place didn’t get past their first year on the food scene.
  • Madeline, 425 Princess Street: this brightly coloured sugar shack was a fixture on the corner of Princess and Division for quite a while. Dentists and sweet tooths wept when it closed. Smokers too.

Additions, Relocations and Coming Soon

  • Smith Robinson Building, 27 Princess Street: this 3-storey building was almost purchased by the City of Kingston.  In the near future it will house Milestones and possibly the Int’l Hockey Hall of Fame?
  • Harper’s, 93 Princess Street: if you haven’t been to Harper’s Burger Bar, you’re truly missing out.  From the same folks who brought you le Chien Noir and Atomica, you’ll love these local burgers.
  • Willow, 112 Princess Street: formerly located across the street from the Grand Theatre, Willow made a big move down Princess Street. Not much for me here, but my Mother in law is a big fan.
  • p’lovers, 123 Princess Street: I was pretty impressed with this eco-friendly store, but not enough to make a purchase.  Can Kingston sustain environmentally-oriented retail?
  • Felicity and Fritz, 127 Princess Street: almost certain this retailer of shoes, handbags and accessories was located somewhere else back in 2009. Let’s hope they’re here to stay for a few more years.
  • Walton Boxing Gym, 128 Princess Street: a new addition to downtown Kingston, adding much needed life to the vacant surroundings including the Fabricland, The Book Shop and Made 4 You.
  • Overstocks, 169 Princess Street: brand name labels with deeply discounted prices. They never seem to have my size, and to be honest, I don’t find the merchandise to be top quality.
  • CDK Family Medicine and Walk-In Clinic, 175 Princess Street: great location for accessible health care.
  • Monkeybar, 177 Princess Street: I wept when Asha Sushi closed their doors.  My eyes nearly fell out when the minds behind Monkeybar painted the storefront bright yellow. I hear they have bottle service.
  • Five Guys, 185 Princess Street: The second of three new burger joints that have opened up downtown over the past few years.  Not as fancy as the others, but Five Guys is just as delicious and expensive.
  • The Rocking Horse, 193 Princess Street: the former Sustainability Centre didn’t sit vacant for long, as it is now filled with the relocated toys and educational wares of The Rocking Horse.
  • Unknown, 217 Princess Street: I’m not totally sure that this is a new business.  It seems like they’re still selling sunglasses but the signage screams cell phone repairs and unlocking services.
  • David’s Tea, 225 Princess Street: this address was formerly home to Willow, and now the proud home to David’s Tea.  This Montreal/Toronto-based franchise is pretty a good fit for the block.
  • T-Shirt Gallery, 238 Princess Street: if you like cheesy slogans on your tees, look no further.
  • Starbucks, 251 Princess Street: I could not understand why someone would think that it’s a good idea to open a Starbucks two doors down from another.  Surprisingly, this place is always packed.
  • Spin, xx Princess Street: For as long as I can remember it was The Running Room.  Freshly renovated, this gorgeous building will soon be home to Spin, which is some sort of dessert bar. But for how long.
  • Trailhead, 262 Princess Street: while I was saddened by the retirement of the owner of Modern Furniture, he deserved it.  Trailhead also deserved a great space, while their new location is a gem.
  • Jreck Subs, 269 Princess Street: here’s an idea, let’s open a sub shop in the same location as a sub shop that went out of business.  Jreck Subs opened last summer, but I doubt they’ll make it a year.
  • Alibi, 295 Princess Street: this place literally popped up overnight.  With minimal signage, it’s easy to miss. We’ve heard various versions about how this place came to be, but none of the stories check out.
  • The Works, 298 Princes Street: the most recent, and current go-to place for burgers in Kingston seems to be The Works.  With over 100 burger combos, the only complaint is deciding what to order.
  • The Wine Rack, 318 Princess Street: when we noticed that The Wine Rack was popping their cork, we thought it was a no-brainer. It definitely saves some students a walk down to Barrack and King.
  • Ali Baba Kabab, 320 Princess Street: Ali Baba Kabab and I didn’t necessarily get off on the right foot, but we’ve been back since and they’re getting much better. Certainly hope that they’re here to stay.
  • Mom’s, 339 Princess Street: the coming soon wallpaper in the storefront has been up for months.  Will this fried/roasted? chicken shop place open, and better yet, will it last longer than it’s predecessor?
  • Canada Computers, 350 Princess Street: the last business playing the shuffle game in part one.  Their previous location is now home to The Works!  With the closure of KCP, Canada Computers is it.
  • Tommy’s, 377 Princess Street: when Tommy decided to follow his dreams with a late-night eatery and bar in the Hub, Kingston gained something really special.  I still need to try their million $ sandwich.
Interested in learning more about the state of downtown Kingston? Check out part two of this series, which focuses on Downtown Sidestreets in 2011. Want even more? The 2015 edition of this series is now available.

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...

22 thoughts on “The State of… Lower Princess (Part 1 of 3)

  • And there is a rumor on the Twitter-Streams saying an Apple store will be opening up in the old Trailhead location.

      • I would be very surprised if Kingston got a full-blown Apple Store right now. I would think its lower on the list than other larger metropolitan centres that dont yet have one. I hope I am wrong.

  • It's not on Princess St, but another constantly empty storefront is about to undergo a major overhaul. 172 Ontario St. (the former home of Mexicali Rosa's) has plans to build an expensive condo complex above/behind/beside it. There hasn't been any work started yet but the property was surveyed in the spring.

    Although I love the patio that will be destroyed, this is one property that has never been able to attract business and in-fill development like this should help keep the downtown core vibrant.

    • We'll be getting to downtown side streets and upper Princess Street in subsequent episodes. So stay tuned. I share your sentiment re: their patio, which has a bit of a hidden garden-like feel. That said, no business has been able to make a run of it on that corner.

  • Jreck is gone already. Had a sign saying it was a temporary close for a week or two. Then a sign went up telling who was running the shop that the locks had been changed on them. Damn, that was a fast decline.

    • I recall seeing the "temporarily closed" sign, which is never good, but did not see the other. Sad to see them go to fast, but again, not surprised.

      • Never ate at Jreck myself, but I know at least a dozen people that did and said awful things of the place. It was always going to be an uphill battle in a location that Quiznos couldn't manage to remain profitable in; it would have taken something special to make it work. Pity, that location sat vacant for so long, it was nice to see something operating there again. With what Keystone is charging to lease that location, I don't expect to see anything new there for quite some time.

  • I'm a big fan of The Alibi, it's nice to have a quiet place to drink and enjoy conversation – no TV's, no loud music, but they do have boardgames which is a nice change of pace. They also stock all sorts of craft beers, and John behind the bar really seems into creating drinks and getting people to try new cocktails, which is fun. A nice addition to downtown.

    While it is sad that S&R, Modern, and Source for Sports have all disappeared from the downtown, I couldn't be happier to see what has happened to the vacated buildings they once inhabited. It's been a huge facelift for downtown, and buildings that were once run down now look better than ever. The renovations on the old location of the Running Room and even the H&R Block building are great as well. Downtown Kingston is looking good, but there are still some empty storefronts that have been vacant for far too long; can't have it all I guess…

    Great article!

  • I feel like Mom's (where the poutine place was so very very briefly) is just never going to open. Every time I pass it it just looks sadder and sadder. Time to put mom in the home, I think.

    • I heard from someone that Mom's is essentially completely ready to open on the inside, but the work done when constructing the place failed to meet code, so they couldn't open. Which would explain the delay I suppose, although it's just something I heard and can't be sure of any accuracy.

  • Sign at Smith Robinson building says that it's 78% leased. As alluded to above, Milestones take up a huge portion of the ground floor. We peaked in tonight, and they've got lots of the finishing touches installed already – staff training taking place as well. Have heard rumors that Hockey Hall of Fame is still being considered. Also, a local law firm will be relocating and taking up an entire upper floor.

  • What about that crepe place on Princess and Clergy. Haven't been there but I think it's a new addition since the last list.

  • The old Trailhead is going to be an official Apple Reseller called Jump Plus. They have one in Guelph. I think it will do really well with the student/professor/doctor crowd. Wealthy people with an appreciation for premium technology.

  • Seems that Vinny's finally closed down. I believe it was version 4.0 . Every year tehy changed the menu. Much better burger places in the area. At one time even "dare i say it" Mc Domalds was better. I am surprises it lasted as long as it did

    • I'll kind of missy Vinny's, I had a sandwich (meatball maybe?) there when they were an Italian meatball place, and it was pretty good with a big portion for not much. Customer service was terrible though, so I didn't go back.

      • The place started well enough when it was sandwiches they were doing. I actually ate there a couple times a week for a few months after it first opened. Eventually I had to stop though, the quality had slipped too much and some of the sandwiches I got bordered on inedible… The place got progressively worse and worse as the owner decided to start spending more and more of his time there, pity. I still kind of crave their veal sandwich in its original form sometimes – thankfully it's pretty easy to make it myself at home.

  • Well, I went to Mom's – it finally opened. There was a person in a chicken suit dancing to LMFAO outside so I suspect it was the grand opening today. At least I hope that's the case.

    I got a 2 piece meal, and it was pretty much what you'd expect. The chicken was good, crispy – not made to order, unfortunately – but I think they had literally just opened, so might be a fluke. Fries were fries. You get a choice of a side, and it's nice that they have both a creamy and a vinegar coleslaw to choose from, as well as macaroni salad. I chose the vinegar coleslaw and it was fresh, but lacked bite.

    It's OK fried chicken, and they deliver, which is nice.

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