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

Princess Street, lower Princess, downtown core, vacant stores, opening soon, Kingston, OntarioBack in 2009, I took a leisurely stroll down Princess Street, snapping pictures of downtown storefronts and assembling a digital time capsule of vacant as well as newly established businesses.  What resulted was a hugely popular three part series, which I eagerly revisited again in 2011.  As another two years have passed since my last report on business and real estate in downtown Kingston, today I’m proudly revealing the premier episode of the 2013 “The State of…” series.  Similar to past episodes in this ongoing series, a great number of businesses continue to relocate to avoid crippling rental hikes after their initial lease expires.  Big box competition and their lure of free parking continue to pose a threat to the livelihood of many independent business owners.  Furthermore, the departure of consumer magnets such as Indigo and Empire Cinemas has left two massive holes that will likely sit vacant for years to come.  Join Kingstonist as we set out to document the vacancies, relocations and additions that have taken place since our 2011 snapshot. In this premier episode, we travel from the base of Princess Street to the Division Street intersection.

Closures and Vacancies

  • The Amber Room, 7 Princess Street: not much going on at the very foot of Princess, save for The Merchant and a Dentist’s office.  Don’t fret, this vacancy was not caused by permanent store closure.
  • Glow, 9 Princess Street: the decomposing sign suggests massages and beauty-related services, but the estheticians, their age-defying serums and various tricks of the trade haven’t been here in a while.
  • Olden Green, 78 Princess Street: the first real sad closure as we make our way up the street.  Retailer of cards, funny and thoughtful gifts, jewellery and other special trinkets has closed once and for all.
  • Unknown, 109 Princess Street: this storefront recently received a major facelift, and had a prime seat for the Big Dig Phase 2.  No tenants at the moment, but I’m optimistic something exciting will land here.
  • Willow, 112 Princess Street: this home decor boutique made the list back in 2011 after they relocated from their original home across from The Grand.  Two years later,  they’ve had to close up shop.
  • Rogers, The Book Shop, Made 4 You, Fabricland, 120-126 Princess Street: the chipboard-clad exterior suggests something secret is going on here.  Let’s hope we aren’t disappointed with the big reveal.
  • Telus – Tyroute, 131 Princess Street: while the downtown location may be closed, Tyroute still has their main operation out on Gardiners. And there’s a Telus store in the Cataraqui Town Centre.
  • Serves You Right, 164 Princess Street: this former greasy spoon has been vacant since our 2011 snapshot.  Lot’s of offline chatter as to why no one has jumped to establish a business here.
  • XO Lounge, 177 Princess Street: this supposedly higher-end dance club offered bottle service and an exclusive environment. Its closure suggests this model is clearly not what club-goers are after.
  • Empire Capitol 7 Cinemas, 221 Princess Street: their relocation to the middle of nowhere leaves the downtown with a huge theatre-ready space.  The credits have concluded and the patrons are all gone.
  • Ten Thousand Villages, 235 Princess Street: this nonprofit fair trade retailer sold handcrafted products from all over the world. I was always taken with their wares, but found them too pricey.
  • Made You Blush Beauty Boutique, 238 Princess Street: the former home to the Body Shop. Many have since made attempts at related cosmetic and beauty shops therein, but none have succeeded.
  • Very Shari, 255 Princess Street: this former retailer of candles, incense, jewellery, rocks and such, relocated to Reddendale Plaza after a solid 23 year run operating out of downtown Kingston.
  • Indigo, 259 Princess Street: with two-large book retailers owned by the same company in the same market, perhaps it was only a matter of time until the downtown’s massive Indigo was closed.
  • Syd Silvers, 273 Princess Street: nothing has changed here since our last look at this space in 2011.  That said, I really like that it frequently serves as a temporary student and community gallery space.
  • Futon Frame Outlet, 282 Princess Street: I’m kind of amazed this business lasted as long as it did.  With increasingly more students bringing their own Ikea furniture, the writing was on the headboard.
  • Turk’s, 281 Princess Street: a huge loss for downtown Kingston. We’d purchased many bits of furniture at Turk’s over the years, and still have an amazing pair of Barcelona chairs we found there.
  • Novellino, 286 Princess Street: this self-proclaimed “trendiest woman’s clothing” retailer appears to have closed up shop.  Their fan page also suggests the owners have moved on and changed focus.
  • Easy Home, 333 Princess Street: rental and installment payments at this furniture/electronics shop always seemed like a deal, until you did the math and realized what the mark up was.
  • Kingston Royal Rugs, 342 Princess Street: this place always caught my eye thanks to the colourful works of art presented in the window, but admittedly I’m not in the market for an expensive rug.
  • 4 Colour, 8 Bit, 348 Princess Street: the final vacancy I spotted was left by this independent retailer of comics, video and board games. They did the downtown shuffle ending up on Wellington Street.

Additions, Relocations and Coming Soon

  • Urban Paws, 27 Princess Street: the ground floor of the Smith Robinson building is now largely inhabited.  This boutique pet supply retailer is a welcome addition to downtown, as is their adorable pug.
  • Milestones, 27 Princess Street: this massive resto chain has a prime view of the hustle and bustle of Princess Street.  Sadly its arrival has also contributed to the demise of a few independent eateries.
  • The Amber Room, 32 Princess Street: again, this eco-jewellery retailer simply moved up and across the street.  I think this is a better location in terms of foot traffic.  Time will be the judge.
  • Wind Mobile, 70 Princess Street: while Wind Mobile’s local coverage may not be expansive, many mobile phone users celebrated their arrival which brought affordable plans to the Limestone City.
  • One Tooth, 119 Princess Street: my first impression of this clothing retailer is that they’re a lot like Lululemon, but without the mobs of fans. Hopefully the brand will enjoy success with Kingston’s yoga crowd.
  • Rogers, 119 Princess Street: relocated from their previous storefront across the street, the communications giant now calls the former home of Downtown Kingston Sports! home. Amazing reno they did here!
  • Taj Currie House, 125 Princess Street: a gorgeous and quaint Indian restaurant, which continues to receive positive reviews from loyal and new patrons. Finally, another decently priced Indian resto downtown.
  • Unknown, 160 Princess Street: the former home of the Rocking Horse, purveyor of toys and educational aids, has received a facelift and now displays a leased sign.  Looking forward to what will take shape here.
  • Crave, 166 Princess Street: this cafe, restaurant or something along those lines has already slid their opening date by many months.  With the less specific “opening soon” sign displayed, my curiosity is waining.
  • Memory Lane Sweets, 215 Princess Street: in recent years we’ve seen the likes of Madeline’s and the candy store on the corner of Sydenham and Princess close.  Can this succeed where others have failed?
  • BSE Skateboard Shop, 227 Princess Street: maybe I’m falling out of touch with what kids in Kingston do for fun, but I wouldn’t have thought we needed a third skateboard shop downtown. Aren’t Sepp’s and Rockit enough?
  • Menchies, 241 Princess Street: this delightful addition to downtown Kingston serves up and endless supply of frozen yogurt.  And they’ve taken steps to reduce the number of their spoons littered around the streets.
  • Spin Dessert Cafe, 260 Princess Street: the addition of yet another dessert slash cafe-style restaurant within a block of Menchie’s suggests that business owners are really trying to play to our sweet tooths.
  • Jump +, 272 Princess Street: while I am personally not an Apple fanatic, this licensed retailer has set up a gorgeous storefront that serves as a shrine to all shiney things proceeded by the letter ‘i’.
  • Hwaki, 269 Princess Street:  with two sub shops failing at this location, someone clearly got the memo that Kingstonian’s have an insatiable appetite for pan-Asian cuisine such as sushi and Korean BBQ.
  • MltDwn, 292 Princess Street: without a doubt my favourite new restaurant in this list, offering gourmet grilled cheese and amazing waffle fries.  Try the pulled pork, and wash it down with a (new) beer!
  • The Alibi, 293 Princess Street: another outstanding addition to downtown Kingston.  Doormen at this establishment go so far as to help you find a seat!  And then there’s their ever-changing craft beer list.
  • Sima Kitchen, 296 Princess Street:  it seems as though ever two years the central core becomes home to two more sushi restaurant.  I’m not complaining, but it makes me wonder how many we can really support.
  • Dino’s Barber Shop, 316 Princess Street: relocated from just up the street after their lease negotiations reportedly fell through.  As a regular, I quite like the new location and the view across to the Church.
  • Limestone City Cupcakery, 326 Princess Street: after being unceremoniously ousted from their location on Ontario Street, the purveyor of sugary sweet is tempting patrons out of the former location of Cynthia’s.
  • Burrito Amigo, 337 Princess Street: undeniably a close second in terms of my favourite new restaurants along main drag.  I still worry that the location is too big, but that hasn’t stopped me from coming back for more.
  • Room Nine, 347 Princess Street: a bar that’s seemed to have had a bit of an identity crisis over the past while, seemingly changing from Brooklyn to RoomNine in a matter of days.  Is Room Nine here to stay?
  • Soussan’s Barber Shop, 351 Princess Street: finally the former home of Dino’s Barber Shop was instantly transformed into Soussan’s after Dino and company departed.  Do we have enough Barbers downtown?
Interested in learning more about the state of downtown Kingston? Check out part two of this series, which focuses on Downtown Sidestreets in 2013. 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...

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

  • I appreciate these posts, it's hard to tell what's new and what's still open downtown.

  • Sad to see many long-lasting stores closures. Hopefully, the new ones can last as durable.

    How about a map with open and closed stores? It would be visually striking.

  • Think you missed Bombshell, the custom tshirt place that opened last year next to Starbucks at Sydenham St.

  • Did Brandees go out of business? I went by tonight and the sign was down, people were camped out eating ice cream in the deserted patio, all the lights were off, and the menus etc. were taken down.

      • I've sort of thought it was going that way for a while, but you'd see a few people in there/bands on stage so it was hard to tell. Losing a restaurant is one thing but Brandees was one of the few small local venues for live music in the downtown. Maybe it's a rebranding, I recall seeing a group of 4ish young men sitting around an otherwise deserted bar recently.

        *twitches curtains*

  • Eh while I'm here. I also have deep suspicions about the former Fabricland location. Something is going on there, and it's my gut instinct that the plan is to revitalize it as one store – once the book reseller closed (and I suspect he was something of a holdout) the Made4U, Rogers, and Boxing Gym where the March for Dimes was got turfed pretty quickly.

    Now the Shopper's on Bagot used to be the Zellers, and before that the Screening Room and environs used to be Gracie's. There's a lot of space to the back in those Princess lots and it would not surprise me if we were looking at a Target or something similar. The length of the construction makes sense given the red tape the Cat Centre Target has had to go through, though god knows there's no parking to be had. Someone might very well capitalize on the lack of a general goods store on Princess.

  • How about an article focusing on the physical state (upkeep) of our downtown?

    I moved where I park my car downtown recently, and when I get off work, usually between 6am and 8am, I park it up by John's Deli and walk down to my apartment by Princess and Montreal. It's a pretty sad walk some mornings. Garbage cans still laying on their side from the previous night, excessive litter and garbage scattered everywhere (not just the hub), and what's up with all of the unattended weeds just being allowed to grow and grow? There is a TREE growing out from a lamp post at the Division and Princess intersection.

    Kingston is failing to get the basics right. Have someone contracted to remove weeds once a fortnight. Have volunteers or hire some people on minimum wage to wander downtown every morning picking up litter. OR start fining the hell out of people that DO litter, like NYC did. If downtown looks dirty, it isn't helping the situation at all. We need to restore a sense of pride to our downtown, and stop looking the other way!

    Are all of the high taxes people are paying on their businesses down here only to finance vanity projects now?

  • It's depressing walking down Princess street. The rents are not affordable, no free parking, not even on a Saturday! What is the city or BIA doing about it? Nothing that I know about. Mis there some kind of plan to revitalize the downtown? What about a pedestrian only area? Even the springer market on Saturday is losing local food vendors.

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