The Secret West Side

Everyone knows the traditional main streets: West Wellie, Preston, Chinatown, Bank Street … The very success of these streets ensure they attract popular businesses with enough clientele to afford the rents. But where are the retailers that cannot afford main street?

Ottawa lacks many low-value retail spaces, where specialty niche businesses, startups, and some just-plain marginal businesses can locate.

Gentrification and the revival of main streets are desirable, but have the effect of squeezing out these small firms. So they slip into little-noticed spots unattractive to mainstream, main street retailers.

I previously mentioned the hotbed of nifty niche novelty firms on the west side*. Art-is-in bakery at unit 112 in the City Centre building is doing gangbusters, and friends who drink coffee tell me the brew is excellent. On the western end of Elm Street is Patrick Gordon Framing, and right next door in the basement industrial building is FunkyFurniture Company, dealing in mid-century modern furniture. Backing onto these two businesses, but facing Spruce Street, is another refugee from gentrification, exiled from rising rents in Westboro: Vintage Lighting.

Not much to look at the from the outside:

located beside a small office building home to lost causes and micro-businesses, the lighting store is downstairs

But once you enter the door into a dark but high ceilinged space, a wonderful world of recycled light fixtures appears:

If you can, enlarge these pictures on your screen. Try to figure out the chandelier in the left foreground; and look closely at that Dan Brown-themed globe/astrology light fixture just in front of the ladder. Incredible. No doubt the holy grail of light fixtures is somewhere in here.

While talking to some developers recently, I commented on how much I like the old Centretown plan feature that put small retail shops at street level of most apartment buildings. These house a neat array of not-ready-for-mainstreet businesses, such as foreign-language bookshops.

Alas, condo developers generally don’t like these small shops in their condo buildings because they complicate the paperwork; our Councilor prefers all retail be directed to the  traditional commercial streets (the lone storefront proposed for 89-91 Lisgar has been banished); and some residents fear anything commercial will become a noisy bar. Fun little retail zones as found on Elm and Spruce won’t last long. The condos are coming, the condos are coming!

Surely there are other vibrant little side streets somewhere in the City, home to the less-popular tastes. Please share where you find them.

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13 thoughts on “The Secret West Side

  1. How absurd. Why don’t you want architectural and commerical monoculture?

    We all know that Barrhaven is the pinnacle of human achievement and we should try to have our entire city emulate its bland, innocuous blend of overwide boulevards, unwalkable neighbourhoods, and interchangeable chain stores.

  2. The first place that comes to my mind is Pho 99.
    As much as I like the industrial building that you feature today, I have a strong fear that we will the building knocked over and a sign for an exciting 50 story tall “Soho Bayview” condo project 🙁

  3. Isn’t Bayview/City Centre the (once) only agreed-upon location for intensification? Not anymore, I guess. I don’t see why the east side of City Centre Ave. has to be the subject of the same intensification as the City Centre building/parking lot footprint – if such a travesty is allowed to occur….
    I’m sure those cool businesses would hate, however, to have people move in across the street where they could be noticed by consumers. Exposure is usually the death of a business. Maybe a BIA is in order…
    I swear, if I hear a community-led ‘Save City Centre’ anti-intensification campaign, I’m going to move to the south pole.

  4. S-man is right. If there is an area in the city that needs a complete tear down and fix up it is the corridor from 250 City Centre south to Gladstone. If I am not mistaken they shot a movie behind the City Centre because the urban detritus looked much like an abandoned inner city area of Anybigcity USA. Having said that, Ottawa really will need to catch its breath shortly because the pace of development projects will outstrip the available skilled workers to build the projects. And thanks for the tip on the bakery. I bought a really nice loaf a while back after your recommendation in a previous post although I find the artisan baker who bakes for the Glebe Metro to be as good and a little closer. It is nice to have such skilled bakers in town now. It wasn’t always the case.

    1. Chris – As far as I know, the artisan bread sold at Glebe Metro is Art-Is-In. This has definitely been the case for the past year.

  5. I agree fully. I lived in Toronto for five years, and loved finding little cahces of start-up businesses on streets that were a little off the beaten path. There are precious few spots like that in Ottawa, but one area with such potential is Merivale, a little bit south of Carling, I think where Kirkwood meets it. There’s a smattering of traditional storefronts there, that could be a nice incubator for new businesses (although there’s some there now that may object to a change of use), or heaven forbid, the start of a main street in that area!. One would hope that the Kirkwoods, Churchills and Hollands could start to show signs of commercial activity, but that may be asking too much in this city.

    I’m going to check out the City Centre coffee this weekend!

  6. I’m going to check out this bakery. In the future, it would be great to see the path adjacent to the O-T

  7. That FunkFurniture place was short lived. There’s a new sign up for the Beaver Boxing Club.

    1. In the matchup between beaver boxing and funky furniture, you went to the wrong arena.

      Beaver is beside vintage lighting on Spruce. The same building runs through the block and also faces Elm.

      Funky furniture and the framing store are on the Elm street side. I was in it yesterday, still there.

  8. I like walking down Montreal Road through Vanier. There are little bits and pieces there that could/should/will develop into a nice urban fabric. Even now, it seems a lot more alive than most of the city.

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