The growing pains of gentrification

Candice and I live in Westboro, a neighbourhood of Ottawa which is sort of the Next Big Thing here. It’s got many of the things you’d expect to make a neighbourhood get trendy: it runs along an urban shopping strip and the waterfront, it’s a ten-minute drive along a parkway to downtown, it’s got good transit access, a few good schools, some good chunks of redevelopable land. And it’s taking off: housing prices around here have gone through the roof (we rent!), a whole bunch of condo projects have recently started or finished construction, and the main commercial strip, Westboro Village, is going through a lot of turnover as leases expire, rents go up, and the amount of revenue required to remain profitable creeps up.

As a result, a lot of businesses that have been in Westboro for years are closing up or moving. (Thankfully, it’s usually “moving”, and for the most part it’s been businesses that really didn’t need storefront retail locations — a healthy-home contractor, a paint-your-own-pottery shop, a framing shop, a bakery with another location just down the road. The closures have mostly been places that clearly were barely hanging on anyhow: a diner, a dirty bar beside the Legion, that sort of thing.)

The interesting thing about watching this turnover is watching the businesses that arrive to replace them. Opening a new store in Westboro is clearly an expensive proposition at this point, given all the stories in the local newspaper about the businesses that had to move because of increasing rents. And some of the new stores are tailor-made for this kind of neighbourhood: Lululemon, Bark & Fitz, a midrange Mexican restaurant, the Juniper restaurant and wine bar — although the latter has moved into a glassed-in place that used to be half of a car dealership, with the other half still next door.

But for others I have to wonder how they’re planning to survive. A tiny aerobicswear shop, in a neighbourhood with a Lululemon and a very well-established dancewear shop? A Baker St. Cafe, a burgers-and-grilled-cheese restaurant with exactly one vegetarian item, in an unrenovated, dark pub?

But none of those are as strange as Chlorophylle. An outdoor-clothing company with a very small product line, they’re not just opening a big store in Westboro, they’re expanding a building to a second story first. And while there’s undoubtedly a big market for outdoor clothing in this market, they’re opening three doors down from Mountain Equipment Co-op (Canadian for “REI”), across the street from The Expedition Shoppe, and one kilometer away from Bushtukah and Trailhead.

Not only are those all large, fully-equipped outdoors shops (all except The Expedition Shoppe sell climbing equipment, skis, kayaks, and so on plus many brands of clothing), they also all sell Chlorophylle — and they’re the only stores in Ottawa that sell their adult line!

I can’t imagine what Chlorophylle is expecting to happen, but I can think of a couple of possible outcomes: their store sells their clothing at list, and the existing stores sell below list, so no-one shops at Chlorophylle; or they sell their clothing at outlet prices, and the other four stores stop carrying what is for them a very small line because they don’t want to buy wholesale from their local competitor.

Given that Chlorophylle had the entire city to open in — including some similarly-gentrified neighbourhoods like the Glebe, and major shopping areas like the Byward Market, that don’t have anything like their store — I have no idea why they chose the place they did.

(Hrm, I should post about some of my favorite Westboro places.)

2 responses to “The growing pains of gentrification”

  1. yes please on the post about favourite westboro places :) Jimmy and I live by the Lincoln Heights mall, and now that we have bikes we plan on being in Westboro a lot over the summer.

  2. Why would you say that a paint-your-own pottery shop doesn’t *need* a storefront? I own one, and yes, a storefront is definitely needed and is getting more and more expensive to have and maintain. A traditional art/ceramics studio might not need one. Anyhoo… it’s sad to see one close up or move. It sounds like your area is the perfect happening place for one.