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A city hall plan aims to bring businesses downtown. So far, it's working

This content was originally published in the London Free Press on July 18, 2022 and was written by Norman De Bono.

London’s downtown has landed new investment topping $1 million in value following a city hall push to bring new businesses to the core.

The Core Area Pilot Program unites small business groups and economic development agencies in an effort to boost downtown. Officials are set to announce Monday that 17 new businesses – taking up 43,000-square-feet of commercial space, and bringing about 160 new jobs – has landed downtown since the program was created.

“We’re getting some results,” said Kapil Lakhotia, chief executive of the London Economic Development Corp., which is leading the project. “By putting our resources together we hope we can get more businesses downtown. We need to have a co-ordinated strategy.”

In February, city council approved a $300,000 pilot program pitched by the London Economic Development Corp. that sees it working with the London Small Business Centre, Mainstreet London and Old East Village merchants. The agencies co-ordinate existing programs and offer new ones, reaching out directly to business owners and making store improvement grants available.

The money has paid for the hiring of some business development staff to do outreach to businesses, including showing vacant space in the core, as well as marketing initiatives, Lakhotia said.

Jill Belanger owns SKN Aesthetics, which moved downtown in March to a King Street address from Horton and Wellington streets. She wanted to be part of the core rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.

She has applied for funding under the My Main Street program to improve her new store.

“We wanted to be more central and with COVID ending we thought it would be good to be downtown, to get more foot traffic,” Belanger said. “We’d grown faster than anticipated and thought downtown would be the place to be.”

The storefront she moved into was vacant for two years and she has applied for $10,000 funding under My Main Street, a FedDev Ontario program to better core areas, to improve the space.

“It’s been good,” she said of business. “It’s nice to have exposure at Budweiser Gardens or from people going to the Covent Garden Market and we’re close to Harris Park.”

Steve Pellarin, chief executive of the London Small Business Centre, believes the strength of the new program is that it now offers existing programs under one co-ordinated group and it has added staff to recruitment efforts. “We’re now offering programs in unison and we’re getting bodies on the street, teams walking into businesses talking with business owners” about downtown.

Storefront businesses have several programs available through core area improvement agencies for everything from patio expansion to façade improvements and now they can be offered under this one strategy, Pellarin said. “Our team will work with businesses to customize the service and support them.”

Coun. John Fyfe-Millar’s ward includes downtown London. He believes a co-operative, collaborative effort is needed to help the area thrive.

“This is fabulous. We need everyone working together, moving in the same direction and in London one of the biggest challenges we’ve faced is working together,” Fyfe-Millar said. “I think we can agree that five years ago downtown struggled to work with others, now look at the impact we can have if we work together as a group.”

Some new downtown London businesses:

  • Buzz Bagelz Inc., 160 Dundas St.
  • Saisha’s Patisserie, 208 Piccadilly St.
  • Tropical Food Terminal, 344.5 Richmond St.
  • N.O.A.H. Café, 255 Queens Ave.
  • Val’s BBQ, 411 Richmond St.
  • Bianca Beauty Bar, 392 Clarence St., Unit 1.
  • Live Fit Foods, 379 Dundas St.
  • Tyk Technologies, 201 King St.
  • The Baker’s Table, 630 Dundas St.
  • Demelo Fitness, 347 Clarence St.
  • Habitus, 140 Dundas St.
  • Mr. and Mrs. Bao, 551 Richmond St.
  • Grill 23, 140 Fullarton St.
  • Chaotic Closet, 727 Richmond St.
  • AnnDining, 140 Ann St.
  • SKN Aesthetics, 103 King St.
  • Mezza Restaurant, 244 Dundas St.
  • Acai Concept, 116 Dundas St.

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