Barrington Street Woes

Queen Street West - an example of a successful commercial street.

So Carsand is closing, and the owner blamed “no one shopping dowtown.”  A thread started on Halifax locals, I posted a response, which I am going to modify slightly and post here.

Well, to me Carsand’s closing demonstrates four things about the state of downtown Halifax right now:

1 – Entrepreneurs often need stores that are small. Landlords want to rent big, huge spaces to one tenant.

These two things are incompatible. Back when Barrington was “big” and the Sears, Zellers and movie theatres were there, those stores filled whole buildings, like where the Discovery Centre is now, and CFAT, and the NS Public Works building. This was a blip in the history of street level retail.

Now big has moved to the mall/business park, and what works downtown is small. Barrington is successful where there are small retail spaces (Green Lantern, Freak Lunchbox) and not were there were large spaces (empty in the Roy where A&A and Shoppers used to be, later Dooley’s).

Solution? Require 1500-2000 sf stores with small 30 foot storefronts under the planning strategy.

2 – Digital photography, combined with Henry’s entering the market, has really messed with Carsand’s bottom line.

I think the owner is blaming ‘downtown’ but also the core of his market has been stolen from him.

Photo students getting 4×6 done at Costco and my parents using the HP machine at Superstore to print their photos at Christmas is just as much to blame.

Like record stores, or rep cinemas, I suspect each city will have one downtown photo place, and Atlantic Photo looks to have won this (smaller store!).

Solution? Boutique photo development either at Atlantic Photo or someone opens a 200sqf office space in the Roy or something to do just those chemical processes that no one else does.

3 – the economy sucks.

Carsand experienced Henry’s coming to down just as the economic shite hit the fan. Everyone’s sales are down, it is amazing to me more businesses have not failed in downtown and over all.

Solution? Hopefully the predictions of 2.7% growth come true and the light at the end of the tunnel is not an oncoming train.

4 – Downtown was about to go through a renewal when the economy hit the skids.

Twisty towers. The new Roy. Keith Tower. Lots of development approved, none happening. 1 million square feet of office space is approved right now, there are no cranes in the air, nothing but Trilliam and that horrible Atlantic Centre in historic properties being built.

If the Roy gets redone, and the Sam’s property gets redone, thats about 20% of critical storefronts being re-built and taken out of service until reconstructed.

Here is hoping the Province builds something with storefronts on the corner of Barrington and George, and the city just expropriates the NFB building and makes something happen there.

Solution? Time. And point 1, make sure the redeveloped Roy and all are small retail spaces.

Small store fronts are why Queen Street West in Toronto works so well, and Quinpool, and Argyle, but not Barrington and Gottingen (where the average store size is something like 3000 sf).

I know that Michelle at the Gottingen Street Merchants Association has been told this too.  Small storefronts create an incubator effect, allowing entrepreneurs to start new ideas, then fold them, then start them, all on a vibrant and diverse streetscape.

Here are pictures I took of Queen Street W this summer because I was jealous, note how all the stores are 1 townhouse wide:

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