© Geraldine Brophy
Foot traffic seems to have picked up on West Street as new businesses open and new residential housing becomes available.
CORNER BROOK Brenda Lee has lived and operated a business on West Street for more than 20 years. She’s excited about the changes she’s seeing in the area.
From new businessess opening, to existing ones sprucing up their properties and people choosing to live there, Lee thinks the downtown portion of the city is experiencing a revitalization.
“I think the street is starting to look more attractive. And I think that all makes a difference as well,” said Lee, owner of The Orchid flower shop. “People are attracted to nice things that look nice.”
Lee can definitely attest to that. Last year she put a wall up outside the flower shop to showcase planters and other arrangements.
“Well I don’t know how many people came in the store to say ‘My goodness is that ever pretty, does that ever look nice,’ and they’d wander the store.
“So, I’m definitely seeing a difference,” said Lee of traffic at her business. And she’s seeing a difference around her too.
“People are starting to come outside a little bit more,” she said, adding that area restaurants and coffee shops have tables and chairs outside and (restaurants) Shez West and Sorrento both have patios for patrons to enjoy.
“I think it’s just the street is starting to become a little more inviting,” said Lee.
Last year Lee bought two more buildings on the street, the nearly 100-year-old attached units at 25 and 27 West St. She renovated part of the downstairs space and recently welcomed a new tenant, Susan’s.
“When I rented the space downstairs, I couldn’t tell you how many calls I got from small businesses that wanted to take a look at it because they wanted to be on West Street,” said Lee. “They just wanted to be outside, they wanted to be on a pretty street, they didn’t want to be in a mall where there was no windows.”
In recent years the area has seen an increase in the number housing units. The old United Church annex and gymnasium on Park Street was transformed into a 10-unit apartment complex for seniors.
Further up there’s West Valley Gardens at the end of West Valley Road. Once completed the apartment complex for seniors and mature tenants will have 68 units. The first building with 29 units opened in 2009 and construction on the second 39-unit building is nearing completion. Then there’s also the 16-unit condo building at the bottom of Reid Street.
Mayor Neville Greeley said those buildings help increase the density of living in the area.
“Any time you can increase your density of living without having to add new infrastructure underground or in-ground it makes it very affordable for those types of developments to proceed,” said Greeley. “Basically what that does for the business community is it puts customers right at their doorstep. And then of course it’s incumbent upon the businesses to attract the customers inside.”
Greeley said the city can help with that through its business improvement program, which offers a tax credit to businesses that make improvements to their properties.
“That certainly makes it that much more attractable to potential customers,” said Greeley. “A vibrant business community is vital for the community as a whole and whatever we can do to help improve the opportunities that are available for downtown businesses we’ll do.”
Meanwhile, Lee, a self-described downtown girl, can’t picture herself living anywhere else.
That’s why she turned the top floor of her two new buildings into a condo. What was once a two-bedroom apartment and studio-type unit is now a “luxury condo,” complete with a private patio at the rear.
Lee said her whole goal throughout the renovation was to make it as nice as she could and people tell her they can’t believe what she’s accomplished with the space.
She’s also hearing from a lot of people who would love to live downtown. She said the area is perfect for young professionals who don’t have children or for more mature people and seniors.
“The people can walk to the drugstore, they can walk to their doctor’s office, they can walk to a little boutique, they can walk to a coffee shop,” said Lee. “And for somebody that’s between 75 and 85 years old that means a whole social life to them because they don’t have to depend on their children to come and pick them up.”