Kingston’s Downtown and West End: Filling in the Gaps

Kingston is a wonderful city: that’s why this blog is here to celebrate it. Yet, what always confounds me is that even though the city feels packed to the gills from September through April, and even though there are 45-minute waits at downtown restaurants all summer, somehow, business are still closing. Harvey has been monitoring the city’s biggest losses and most anticipated new additions, and I’d like to talk about the gaps in between.

downtown, business, Kingston, Ontario
Gaps at Princess and Bagot

When you walk downtown, you’ll notice that there are spaces in between thriving businesses that just can’t get leased. These gaps on the busy Princess Street strip make me think of a mouth that has lost a bunch of teeth: it can still function, but it’s upsetting to look at and can lead to wider problems it goes unfixed. The gap that bothers me most is at Princess and Bagot. Once home to local breakfast institution Serves You Right, the restaurant has been closed for quite a while, and the spaces that immediately flank it seem to have been empty for just as long. One space has been leased by Wild Wing, front sign at all, but there’s still no word on its opening. Their website doesn’t bode any better: it’s the most lukewarm “Coming Soon” page I’ve ever seen, foreboding that we might be waiting for its opening as long as one might wait for Godot. On the west side of Serves You Right, Crave Coffee House and Bakery has been “Opening Soon!” for a very long time, and it seems like the place has been stagnant for months. Their Facebook page tells another story entirely: a May 22 post says that they’re opening “Summer 2015”. If that’s their plan, they better get a move on. I want to be optimistic, but would hate to get my hopes up.

In a perfect world, I’d like to see Balzac’s Coffee Roasters come to Kingston and take up these three consecutive units. This outstanding coffee shop chain is owned by Diana Olsen, who was inspired to create Balzac’s to celebrate the French thinker and his passion for coffee and literature. Since winning the backing of the Dragon’s Den, Olsen has expanded the business to a handful of locations in Toronto, as well as smaller towns with big art scenes: Stratford, Ontario and Niagara-on-the-Lake. Boasting the Kingston Writer’s Fest, Skeleton Park Arts Festival, and the brand-new Kick and Push Festival, Kingston seems like the next logical location. What makes Balzac’s so special, aside from boasting organic milk and eco-friendly, locally roasted coffee beans, is that each location is unique, designed based on the architecture and cultural aspects of its surroundings. For Kingston, I would predict lots of limestone and loyalist memorabilia to fit right into the city’s culture and history. There’s no news of Balzac’s coming to Kingston right now, but I’ve got my fingers crossed!

downtown, business, Kingston, Ontario
Balzac’s Coffee Roasters: just the boost that Kingston needs

Downtown isn’t the only area plagued with retail gaps. The RioCan Centre in Kingston’s West End has become more and more depressing as businesses have begun to vacate their big boxes. That’s right: despite the long waits at Montana’s on weekends, this plaza nonetheless features several “For Lease” signs in a row. What’s even more surprising is that these empty spaces are all so close to the movie theatre! Empty stores and a busy parking lot? Somehow, the math doesn’t work.

What I’d like to see take up these spaces is a Cheesecake Factory. A Torontonian myself, we never tire of spreading rumours that this American shopping mall favourite will make its appearance in Canada by “next summer!” or “next Christmas, at latest!” Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they opened a giant one, right next to the movie theatre? With Cara-operated Montana’s and Kelsey’s as the only sit-down options within the immediate vicinity, there’s certainly room for some healthy competition, especially when that competition doles out unhealthy amounts of delicious food and outstanding cheesecake! Mark my words: if and when The Cheesecake Factory makes its way to Canada, I’ll be their first customer.

downtown, business, Kingston, Ontario
Gaps at the RioCan, right by the movie theatre

Last but not least: what’s the deal with the Queen’s student village (aka, “The Ghetto”)? So many students, so few non-Sodexho food outlets! When I did my undergrad here in the early 2000s, there was an outstanding burger joint called JJ’s at the corner of Johnson and University. When I returned, I was heartbroken to find that it had been replaced by a sushi restaurant. It’s not that there shouldn’t be sushi in the student village, but can’t there be more than one restaurant? Is there some sort of by-law preventing larger-scale food services from operating so close to campus? If not, I’d like to see more action in this neighbourhood. Personally, I’m hoping for a late-night, low maintenance burrito joint, like Toronto’s Big Fat Burrito or Burrito Boyz. It doesn’t need to be entirely authentic, just fresh and abundant. Mission Street North is great, but they’re not available at all hours, and we’re still waiting for them to return for the summer. The Queen’s neighbourhood needs a permanent, reliable late night food joint, and pronto.

Now I’d like to pass the mic to you: Which gaps in Kingston retail spaces bother you most? What are the gaps our culinary landscape? Which restaurants and foods is Kingston crazy to be missing, while prime spaces remain vacant? And, most importantly: how can we fill our city with more food?

Erin Weinberg

Erin Weinberg has retired as a contributor to Kingstonist. Erin is always looking for Kingston’s “best kept secret”: best Neapolitan pizza, best pho, best tiramisu... she’s on it! Ever cry over spilled milk? Erin cried when she tasted the best chocolate milk of her life! These are the experiences that she shares!

5 thoughts on “Kingston’s Downtown and West End: Filling in the Gaps

  • I am totally shocked that a Chipolte hasn't come to the hub yet….

    • Shocked? North of the border they're (currently) only in Toronto and Vancouver. No stores in Montreal, Ottawa or other larger centres that would likely be ahead of us in line.

      • Shocked or not I would say thumbs up to Chipotle….Too bad they don't franchise or we might have more control over one coming to Kingston.

  • I think a Mountain Equipment Co-op or a Bass Pro Mills could do really well in Kingston, but I'm not holding my breath for either. I'd also love to see a dedicated pho restaurant where you get a plate of basil/bean sprouts/etc to add yourself

  • There used to be one like that called Little Saigon, but the family left the restaurant business and opened a nail salon just next door. A huge shame, if you ask me, and they're much better at broth than they are at buffing (but that's for another review, entirely!). On the bright side, now the space is the Small Batch coffee shop!

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