Downtown Kingston’s Biggest Loss

downtown, kingston, real, estate, lease, vacant, business, commercialThe prosperity of restaurants and retail in any given neighbourhood is intimately tied to factors such as shifting consumer demand, economic conditions and even technological advancement. Accordingly, turnover of businesses is inevitable, whether it’s in a shopping or strip mall, big box complex or in the heart of the city.   Empty storefronts and for lease signs are common across the Limestone City, however, as is the case with our downtown, some vacancies stick out more than others.

Recently, the consolidation of Chapters/Indigo into a single store in the west-end left lower Princess Street with a massive two-storey, 16,000 sq/ft void.  Although the loss of this consumer magnet is significant, the vacancy created in late 2012 by the relocation of Empire Theatre is arguably more noticeable, and it highlights the compelling forces that are pulling some of the larger businesses away from our downtown.

Just what is the normal rate of closures, openings and address changes in downtown Kingston?  This is a question I’ve asked on numerous occasions while exploring the state of our downtown.  In recent months, the heart of the city has bid farewell to the likes of Stuff’d, Luke’s, Burrito Amigo, Urban Trade, Turk’s, Indigo, Ten Thousand Villages, Novelino, Olden Green and the list goes on.  The dozen or so closures represent both corporately-owned and independent businesses, restaurants and retail, as well as well established institutions and exciting new comers.  While there is no single cause behind all these closures, some are quick to point the finger at competition stemming from King’s Crossing and the RioCan.  Further, the former downtown business owners I’ve had a chance to meet have suggested that downtown property owners are just as content to write off losses due to vacancies than offer more affordable and competitive leases.

Lamenting over the recent disappearances from downtown Kingston, this week’s poll asks:

Which business closure is the most significant for downtown Kingston?

  • Indigo (65%, 177 Votes)
  • Other. (18%, 48 Votes)
  • Turks (7%, 20 Votes)
  • Burrito Amigo (6%, 15 Votes)
  • Olden Green (2%, 6 Votes)
  • Lukes (2%, 5 Votes)
  • Urban Trade (0%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 272

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Are you concerned about the number of businesses who have recently closed up shop for good in downtown Kingston?  Which closures surprise you the most, and otherwise, which do you think will have the most severe impact on other downtown businesses?  More importantly, what should the city, property owners and consumers be doing to stimulate and protect businesses in downtown Kingston?

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...

20 thoughts on “Downtown Kingston’s Biggest Loss

  • The loss of the movie theatre is by far the biggest loss.. It was a link to so many others… And in the longer term will be felt harder. I grew up an urban kid and so did my kids.. They like me walked to the movies as independent people not needing a ride or a bus.. Queen's students and RMC as well came downtown for the movie and that led them past other store fronts…
    This constant exposure to other shops was vital… T

  • No mention of the big dig? Y'know, the loss of traffic for the 5 months it was in progress, and then the ensuing property tax hike? Right before they all closed? Not relevant?

    • Great point Geoff. I believe this was one of the major factors behind Stuff'd going down, as the Big Dig was essentially on their doorstep. The remainder were on either side of the action, but still worth mentioning.

  • Although the Empire Theatres has moved, the local independent cinema just down the street should be acknowledged as a great alternative. Some might think The Screening Room only plays art house and foreign films. However, just in the past two weeks they have played HER, Wolf on Wall Street, 12 Years a Slave, and lots more blockbusters — at a fraction of the price of the big box cinemas.

    I think publicity is a big issue. The City or KEDCO or Downtown Kingston should invest in more media coverage of what's available downtown.
    1) Create a block-by-block encyclopedia of Princess Street and surrounding arterial streets.
    2) More events that encourage the community to visit local shops — like the Princess Street Promenade — would go a long way.

    Just some ideas!

  • S&R by a longshot!.. there's nowhere besides Dollarama where you can buy a pair of socks for under $10!

    I think Downtown Bus Assoc, KEDCO, the City, and the Landlord's themselves need to come to terms that to ensure a healthy Downtown means a diverse commercial base, not just to whomever can pay the highest rent!

    • Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe vandervoorts now offers basic clothing such as socks and underwear in the upper portion of their store. They started carrying basic clothing, toys etc… following the closure of S&R.

  • S&R, absolutely. Any mall owner will tell you that a department store is an anchor that supports the smaller businesses around it and thus represents the lifeblood of the whole community. Without S&R, the smaller businesses struggle to gain the traffic necessary to remain profitable. And yet, the rents remain unreasonably high, as though the anchor remains. Until there is some incentive to lower rents to levels that are sustainable, businesses will continue to close or locate elsewhere leaving downtown kingston a sad ghost town.

  • I applaud The City and the BIA for the many great events they continue to hold downtown (that doesn't mean more/other things shouldn't be done).

    Downtown supporters need to fight negative perceptions of downtown (no parking, elitist, dirty, panhandlers, high costs, expensive/unfair capital improvements), and remember to promote the benefits (culture, heritage, walkability, restaurants/patios, vibrant stores, a high tax base, the vibrant community, etc).

    This might not be a popular view, but I think the City needs to continue to encourage densification in the downtown core. Projects like the North Block, Anna Lane and The Tower will benefit Downtown by bringing more people to live and work in the area. It is a lot more sustainable to densify than to continue to sprawl.

  • Parking is a big issue. There is lots of it and it is free at all the malls. It is scarce and expensive downtown. Many other cities (e.g. London, Hamilton, Cambridge, Guelph, to name a few) have free parking for 2hrs. Kingston should do likewise.

    • I agree partially with the parking. If you are in range of the two parades, they are much cheaper than anything in Ottawa. But if you get away, then parking gents very scarce, especially in the winter when kingston can't bother to clean the snow. Examople is on north bagot.

  • not just the big dig and the huge fire but there’s some landlords more than happy to sit on empty units to claim tax losses and are waiting to gouge unsuspecting tenants from toronto or ottawa who think our rents are “cheap” however setting up in a mall like the cat centre has value in terms of their “expensive” rent that something is lost on downtown landlords this isn’t the 20th century (early 80’s) but the teens in the 21st century.they need to be pro-active in attracting clients an preserving the downtown shopping core as well. this would not only enhance their investments but increase their values as well they need to think of long term benefits not the bottom line every quarter.

  • You can not say that high rent is a factor. Rent at the Cataraqui Mall is approx. 3-4 times as much and that is not counting rent based on net sales which large malls tend to do. Easyhome is 24.50 / sq ft . This is $17 plus $7.5. The $7.5 / square foot usually is general or shared maintenance which is not required by tenant and the property taxes so their really is no incentive to have an empty space. 500 Gardiner's Rd is $29 / sq ft. This actually went down from last year. Gardiners Rd (Sleep Centre is $24). Perhaps there are other factors

    • There are places downtown for rent as high as $34.50 a sq foot or more. From my experience the average is around $25-$27 so not cheap!

      • My source for this is from the DTZ & Roger & Trainor website. I am also basing it on experience from my wife looking for commercial space in the west ens of the city.There are cheap and expensive areas in both ends.

    • I spoke to someone at my wife's business that previously had a downtown business and then moved. I mentioned this blog to he and asked why she moved. Her response was vandalism ( broken window and spray paint) and parking. Most of he customer make comments on how it is much easier to park and less of a hassle with feeding the meter. While one group of people may disagree with the parking issue, it can not be ignored from the feedback that her customers are providing .

  • I think S&R and the Empire Theatre are the biggest losses. Both are sadly missed. However, for me, it's more about the trend that's happening and the cumulative effect of so many closings that endangers the downtown. it's still pretty vibrant downtown, but I worry if things keep going the way they are. Rent definitely seems like a factor, and what else can we be doing?

  • If they got rid of the drugged-out welfare bums loitering all over Princess Street, regular people might be more inclined to shop downtown.

    As long as businesses like the Sleepless Goat encourage the homeless, regular shoppers and families will stay away. (who's going to risk exposing their kids to these rejects)

    • Perhaps exposing your kids to these "rejects" might help them build some empathy. It is not as if these people are aggressively asking for money: most sit innocuously by while the rest of the world passes them by hoping for a little kindness.

  • Kingston is a very attactive city…yet the same forces that have affected American small and midsized cities (see Northampton MA and Saragota Springs). The landlords do have the ability to negotiate more favorable rent terms to enable these business to stand a fighting chance, but the element of consumer taste and their suburban vs urban consumer forces are always fighting each other for business. Kingston's downtown to many suburbanites is an hardship, while the city dwellers would ideally like to have no reason to venture out into the soulless suburban sprawl…. Unfortunately, there is always a temptation by landlords to lock in more stable tenants (read national chains…). Jack Astors and many of the banks downtown are going to be the future targets for the landlords….higher rents and consistent product (we may or may not like that…but look at what is happening to Manhattan). The Jersification of cities is taking place everywhere and when the indy businesses die, the plug is often national chains. It's happening everywhere…

  • I didn't know Stuff'd had closed – not that you could get at it with the construction.

    Maru ramen on King St. has changed into a sushi restaurant. I understood it to be owned by the people who own Take sushi like two blocks away, and that they had wanted to do something that wasn't sushi, but I guess we can't have that.

    What was Fabricland (and the other surrounding businesses) has now finished its facelift, and looks very nice – but as one huge retail space, if you remember how large/deep the inside of Fabricland was – with the added little store combined and basement level space. I don't know what you'd put in there, but it'd have to be a larger chain store.

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