Story and images by Hillary Di Menna
With downtown shops like Beanz, Mad Café and Bola closing this past year, downtown business may not be looking good.
Mayor John Henry assures that downtown is the heart of the community. Though some businesses have closed their doors, many more remain open. “You can have dinner at a different place for 50 weeks,” says Mayor Henry.
Since the Faculty of Education and the Regent Theatre, at 50 King St East, opened in 2010, the mayor says downtown Oshawa has really changed. He describes the students as giving the area an exciting, vibrant energy.
City Councillor Doug Sanders, who is Council Liaison for the Downtown Business Improvement Area (BIA), agrees that the university has and continues to bring more business downtown. Both officials also credit the General Motors Centre. The arena is not only the home of Ontario Hockey League (OHL) team, the Oshawa Generals but has recently had The Tragically Hip on stage and will soon host the game show The Price is Right.
The BIA consists of downtown business and property owners who fund beautification, events and marketing initiatives. Sanders says the storefront vacancy rate has gone down in recent years from 30 per cent to eight per cent. He says the downtown is a very important economic factor for Oshawa, and it looks like a hotel owner agrees, as he is planning to build at Queen Street Market located at Richmond and Simcoe. This should help Sanders’ hopes for bringing more tourism into Oshawa. He would also like to see more of an emphasis on art. Paraphrasing a conversation he just had he says, “In Oshawa, you have a hockey stick in your garage and a guitar.”
Recreational services have received millions and he would like to see more of an investment in the arts. He hopes to reach an agreement with the owner of the old Genosha Hotel and let artists paint the exterior.
Mad Café owner, Madeleine Kassinger, recently closed shop, but it wasn’t for lack of business. “We didn’t have to close shop,” says Kassinger. “This is a bit of a tricky answer because it took some soul searching to have to make our decision to close.”
She says it was a combination of personal reasons and conflict with the building’s landlord. Kassinger chose to start a business downtown for its sense of community and wanting to be a part of it. The location brought in a lot of foot traffic and was in an ideal spot for university students. Kassinger had always lived in Oshawa and will miss the café known for its cupcakes. “It’s sad to let go of the memories. My customers were the ones I woke up for in the early mornings, and I’ll never forget all the support I had from them.”
Mad Café was the home to many events and meetings organized by Broken Arts, an Oshawa-based not-for-profit arts group . However the art community is not without a haunt. Wasted Space, a restaurant and art gallery, opened this past October and has hosted the first event for independent music label Fallen Love Records. Wasted Space has seen musical performances from bands, like hometown group Hairy Holler, and it is the meeting destination for Broken Arts and where its next fest will take place. Local artists have their art displayed and for sale, on the walls of the business. A collection of graphic novels and comfy couch invite people to stay with their coffee at located at 74 Celina St.
Despite the recent closings Mayor John Henry is confident with the direction downtown business is taking and will talk to anyone interested about its continuous growth. “I invite you to come to downtown, and I’d meet you at one of many amazing coffee shops.”
Story and images by Hillary Di Menna