Downtown’s natural evolution

Kingston is home to 750 businesses in the downtown region, including over 300 retailers

In 2010, Kingston saw 44 new businesses open in the downtown region. This is an increase since 2011 when only 27 new businesses opened.
In 2010, Kingston saw 44 new businesses open in the downtown region. This is an increase since 2011 when only 27 new businesses opened.
Photo: 
Cyndy Gibson, co-owner of Agent 99, Blueprint, and Three Boutique on Princess St. says that rent is always increasing.
Cyndy Gibson, co-owner of Agent 99, Blueprint, and Three Boutique on Princess St. says that rent is always increasing.
Photo: 

Downtown Kingston’s tight knit community may contribute to a common myth which suggests that businesses have a high turnover rate. But according to owners, this may not necessarily be true as business turnover downtown is just a microcosm of the situation in larger retail areas.

“I think that’s a natural evolution of a downtown,” said Kaitlin Byrick, projects manager of member services for Downtown Kingston! Business Improvement Association (BIA).

In 2010, Kingston saw 44 new businesses open in the downtown region. This number dropped to 27 in 2011 and grew once more in 2012 to 32 openings.

Byrick attributes these fluctuating numbers to the natural ebb and flow of new spaces becoming available.

‘Downtown’ Kingston is located between Ontario and Division Streets and includes both sides of Brock, Princess and Queen Streets, stretching down towards the lake.

“We still consider [Princess St.] the centre of our downtown,” Byrick said.

“I wouldn’t be able to say one general reason that people decide to close,” Byrick said, adding that people may want to sell the business or retire.

She added that many businesses decide to open in the spring in anticipation of the tourist season.

However, throughout the year, locations with retail space on the ground level are popular choices for businesses, Byrick said. “People who decide to have their business on Princess St. are picking it because it’s a busy street,” she added.

She added that students and tourists are beneficial for downtown businesses at different times of the year.

Cyndy Gibson, co-owner of three boutiques on Princess St., Agent 99, Blueprint and Three Boutique, said rent is always going up but people still want to open up on Princess St. because of the amount of traffic it receives from shoppers.

“If people didn’t want to be here then things would change,” Gibson said.

She’s been stationed at Agent 99 on Princess Street for 14 years.

“From there it’s just sort of evolved as we saw different needs and different changing aspects of the market,” Gibson said. “We decided to open similar yet different stores all in the block of one another so we can be there

for them.”

Gibson’s stores have remained open but she said that there was always an opening and closing phenomena of businesses on Princess St. She couldn’t speculate as to why businesses close down, but doesn’t think businesses in Kingston are struggling.

“I don’t think it’s a different formula [than] if you look at Queen West in Toronto or the Plateau in Montreal … I think we’re just a microcosm of the typical situation with retail stores anywhere,” Gibson said.

Gibson stationed her first clothing store, TKO, on King St. In 1993, Princess St. was more of a site for furniture stores than clothing stores.

This all changed when The Gap moved into its current location on Princess St. in 1997.

“When [The Gap] came to town, believe it or not, it was a really big deal and they took a spot where they are now and it changed everything,” Gibson said. “A lot of people clustered around them and this became sort of the shopping block.” She thinks that the co-existence of corporate and independent businesses in Kingston was a positive development.

“If they wanted to come here, it’s because we’re a pretty cool neighbourhood. We’re doing really well,” Gibson said.

Madison Koekkoek, thinks that larger downtown businesses might be having an effect on the smaller ones.

Koekkoek, ArtSci ’14, goes downtown between three and four times a week and was sad to see her favourite store, Starling Vintage Lovelies, close down.

“She closed this summer because she said that a lot of people would come in thinking it was a second-hand shop. She didn’t get all the Queen’s students who liked high-end vintage,” she said. “It was my absolute favourite shop.”

She added that while students are a big part of Kingston’s business demographic, that all changes in the summer when many students leave the city.

“Some of the [businesses] that close maybe don’t appeal as much to students,” Koekkoek said.

Richard Ottenhof agrees that Kingston’s downtown business atmosphere is constantly changing.

“You’ll see one store can change a block and one store can make it difficult for other places along a block,” Ottenhof, owner of Coffeeco, said.

He added that places like Woodenheads Gourmet Pizza are keeping Ontario St. going.

Ottenhof said that downtown business owners need other successful businesses to surround them because they share patrons.

“That’s why Market Square works for me. There will always be people around me,” he said.

When it comes to businesses closing down, Ottenhof said that reasons for ending a business were different for everybody.

“It’s not a proposition where you crack open the door, put your feet on the desk and wait for the till to ring. It’s vacuuming up pennies,” he said.

For Ottenhof, he had to leave his location of Coffeeco at Johnson and Division Streets after the location’s landlord wanted to raise rent by 40 per cent.

When looking for a new location for Coffeeco, he barely considered Princess St.

“Princess St. is really hit-and-miss and it’s not what it was, in my opinion, 20 years ago,” Ottenhof said.

“I looked at it but could never find a compelling case to want to spend money to be there.”

Now, Ottenhof said that the new location in Market Square downtown is much better in terms of visibility.

“The Market Square was really an area that was attractive to me as the city tends to spend a lot of money promoting [it],” he said.

He added that the location is much bigger and rent is comparable on a square foot basis to the old location on Johnson St. and is more exposed to tourists.

“Market Square will be much more tourist-driven but the tourists provide that spike that evens out the first couple of years while you’re developing,” he said.

Ottenhof said that the Market Square location of Coffeeco tries to appeal to graduate students and professors, rather than undergraduates.

“First year students don’t opt for high-end espresso, they go for whipped cream and sugar,” he said.

In order to appeal to a more mature crowd, the Market Square location of Coffeeco doesn’t offer WiFi.

“Prevailing thought [in the worldwide coffee community] is not to offer WiFi and to encourage conversation.”

— With files from Alison Shouldice

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.