Vintage clothing store finds new life up the road

Many Kingston residents are familiar with the vibrant, eclectic storefront to match the items inside at What’ll I Wear, which opened at 338 Princess Street in 1995. After having to leave the location, business owner Janet Strong says she’s found a new location for her unique boutique. Photo via What’ll I Wear website.

A longtime Kingston business has found a new home after leaving its previous downtown location of over 25 years. Janet Strong of What’ll i Wear says she was forced to find a new spot for her popular vintage and recycled clothing store after the owners of her previous location at 338 Princess Street entered into a long-term lease agreement with new tenants.

In January 2022, BJL Properties Inc., a Toronto-based condominium broker, purchased the property that had housed What’ll i Wear since October 1995. In April of that year, Strong agreed to continue a month-to-month lease with the new owners.

“For the past 26 years, I just paid month-to-month. I didn’t have any kind of lease… They sent me an email with a $40 per month increase each year for three years. I said, ‘OK, sure, I’d be happy to sign a lease,’” she shares.

Strong says the email interaction in April was the last time she communicated with the new property owners. At the end of November, she received notice that the building had been leased to new tenants, giving her 30 days to close shop. Then, “I did have an opportunity to sublet from the new tenants that are taking over the lease. But yeah, that wasn’t going to happen,”  says Strong.

After deciding not to sublet the space at 338 Princess — which is part of the property that also houses The Royal 2.0 (formerly The Royal Tavern), and housed The Soup Can, which closed shop the same time What’ll I Wear did initially — Strong says the prospects seemed grim, as she feared losing out on a physical storefront for good. “All I could think was, ‘there’s nothing available downtown for rent that is comparable to the size of the [old location]’… I thought I’d have to put it into storage and figure it out from there.” 

However, all hope was not lost for the business owner, as a quick chain of events over the Christmas break resulted in Strong finding a new location for her store. “The Thursday before Christmas, I was driving down Princess Street and noticed there was a ‘For Rent’ sign in a little shop across from the Tim Hortons up there. So I stopped, got the phone number, and looked at [the store] on Friday morning.” 

After celebrating the holidays over the weekend, Strong got in touch with the owners of the vacant property at 732 Princess Street, several blocks up from her existing shop, and quickly entered into an agreement to lease the storefront. She says dealing with her new landlord has been a positive experience overall.

“He’s just been great. There’s some lights that are out, and he’s going to have an electrician in to fix them. The sink leaks a little bit; he said, ‘I’ll have a plumber in to look at that,’” says Strong, voicing a sense of refreshment after what she describes as 26 years of less-than-satisfactory experience with property owners at her previous location prior to the latest sale of the property.

The future location of What’ll I Wear in the Williamsville District. Map via Google Maps.

While moving a popular retail outlet from a familiar location in the heart of Kingston’s downtown core will not be without its challenges, Strong notes her new neighbourhood has a lot of positive elements, which should be good for business. “I think that block has a fair amount going for it. Where we’re moving, there’s a comic book store, a bead store… There’s Daft Brewing, and I think that’s a pretty popular place. So I think it’s good.” 

In fact, Strong believes the new location may be better suited for some of her existing clientele. “When I spoke to people in the store for the last couple of days, [I told them] I had a new place. I heard a lot of people say, ‘Oh, well, I live up that way.’  So I think, ultimately, it’s going to be fine.” 

Despite a stressful few weeks for the veteran retailer — which included the very real prospect of the long-time downtown boutique closing entirely — Strong is pleased with the end result and looks forward to opening up her new location.

“I’m not happy with the way it transpired, but I’m happy for the outcome. There’s something positive to look forward to in the future because I wasn’t ready to give in yet,” she says. 

What’ll i Wear is expected to open at its new 732 Princess Street location (near the MacDonnell Street intersection) on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023. 

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