Signs of the Times?

If you’ve paid attention to the newspapers and evening news over the past 6 months, you’re probably aware that times are tough. Terms such as financial meltdown, bailout, stimulus packages, the greater depression and catching the falling the knife are overused to such a degree that they almost numb our ability to appreciate the current state of the global economy. Luckily, Kingston has been relatively sheltered from this disaster, save for all of the investors whose portfolios lost nearly 25% of their overall value. Our manufacturing sector has remained unchanged with no announcements of massive layoffs, housing prices continue to dodge national trends, and capital spending on large projects has soldiered on. That said, we are not immune to a bit of suffering, and like any battle, Kingston has begun to register a few casualties. Or have we?

According to experts; assuming that these people are different than those who did not foresee the economic crisis, Canadians are hunkering down and tightening their belts. Some believe that this will have a positive impact on health, as more people will be forced to take the bus, walk to work, and even make better choices when shopping at the grocery store. The end result is less expendable income for everything from dinner and movie on date night, to a new pair of shoes just because you saw them in the store window. With the remainder of the local economy holding steady, the state of consumer retail and restaurants can help serve as a slight sign of the times.

Now before I go on, I want to acknowledge that businesses come and go year after year in downtown Kingston, throughout the township, the Cataraqui Town Centre etc… That said, in recent times restaurants and bars such as Quizzino’s, Curry Village, Filthy McNasty’s, and the (short lived) Living Room have all closed up shop. Has the rate of closures in the food service sector increased, or are these losses simply par for the course? That’s a good question, which I unfortunately do not have the answer to. One could easily argue that the restaurant biz is not extremely profitable, and that these places were simply teetering on the brink of dissolution for some time. In any case, I don’t think an examination of these closures should exclude the possibility that they are in some way related to the overall economy.

Moving on, the retail sector around Kingston is an entirely different beast. The possible closure of the Body Shop (why else would they have a For Lease sign posted?), Dansk, and possible loss of 3 Radio Shack The Source by Circuit CIty outlets is not as troublesome as one might think. This is owing to the fact that there has simply been more noticeable retail growth around Kingston including Urban Outfitters, and the Kings Crossing outlet to name a few. In general, I believe that retail growth has outpaced closures within the sector. But are these really indications of trouble brewing, or simply part of the normal ebb and flow of our economic landscape?

What do you think about the health of the local economy? Are you spending as much as you used to? For those of you who work for or own a retail outlet / restaurant, have you noticed any change lately? Change the world by commenting below.

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...

2 thoughts on “Signs of the Times?

  • Well my partner was laid off at the end of Nov (he was 1 of about 12) and finding work has been impossible. So we’ll be packing up the U-Haul and moving back to Saskatchewan after having just moved here last July. So yes, I do think some people are feeling it, but most have probably just become a bit more conscientious of their spending and that is all. But I definitely think that it will get worse and EVERYONE will be forced to change some aspects of their lifestyles.

  • A rather late response to this article, but as someone that lives and works downtown, and has done so for the last 9 years, I have noticed several things over the last few months.

    On my day off work a few days ago, I decided to check out as many of the stores downtown as I could, as I haven’t had too many opportunities to do so since early January. What I noticed was that many stores were still overburdened with their stock from the January sales/clearances, and that even at 50%+ off, it STILL isn’t selling. It’s not exactly poor product either, and the deals are great. But people just aren’t buying.

    What we are seeing downtown is that people aren’t binge shopping in the same numbers most businesses have enjoyed over the past few years. Likely because (Downtown?)Kingston didn’t really feel the effects of this crunch at first, in spite of all of the doom mongering in the papers. Stores have continued to carry the same levels of stock as always, expecting similar sell through to previous years. What they are now left with is stockpiles of unsold product, which in the case of clothing stores, will be out of season very shortly. This product is making it nigh on impossible to bring in new product for the lack of space.

    A lot of downtown businesses are taking a huge hit. Traffic through stores is generally on par with last year, but what we are seeing is people browsing more than purchasing. When people do make a purchase, it’s after weighing the need more carefully. People are less carefree of their spending, and the size of the average transaction in many stores has almost certainly dropped.

    I really am sad to say it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the downtown saw at least 10-15 stores/restaurants close by the end of this year, without many new ones opening up to take their place. The summer will make or break this, as depending on what effects all of this economic stuff has on tourism in our city will be telling.

    I hope I am proven wrong.

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