Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Why these businesses are still banking on Bank Street | CBC News

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Michael Wallack says he’s often asked why his family’s longstanding business stays on Bank Street in downtown Ottawa, given the area’s economic challenges. 

But when the opportunity recently came to relocate Wallack’s Art Supplies & Framing three blocks away — but still on Bank — it made sense to him, he says.

“There will always be people that like downtown,” Wallack said. “I think [it] will continue to get busier. It might take a long time. [But] I’m banking more on the future of downtown.”

Bank Street’s population north of Highway 417 is expected to grow in the coming years as projects like Urban Capital and Taggart’s 127-unit condo development, between Florence and James, pump new housing into the area. 

But as an apparent homeless encampment that recently popped up right next to that project’s construction fence and other visible signs of poverty illustrate, Bank is also increasingly becoming a window into the city’s less fortunate. 

Meanwhile, businesses are still waiting on federal workers to more fully to return to the office, Wallack said. 

This encampment recently appeared on Bank Street near the construction fence of a new condo development, though the tents were down by Sunday. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

‘A custodian of this beautiful place’

Some of the vacancies on Bank Street — like on the block between Nepean and Lisgar Streets where Wallack’s has been located since the early 1970s — aren’t necessarily due to rental challenges but rather ongoing redevelopment efforts by property owners, Wallack said. 

Wallack’s own move, to the sizeable spot filled until recently by Foster’s Sports Centre, was prompted by such plans, Wallack said. 

The Foster’s block, being closer to the area grocery store, is busier, he said.

“There’s a few other boutique stores surrounding it. There’s some nice restaurants [that] yesterday you couldn’t even get into,” Wallack said.

He said part of the store’s ethos is to conserve and protect a space, and so he says he’s happy “to be a custodian of this beautiful place.”

Another compelling reason to stay: data the store collected during the pandemic showed many of Wallack’s online orders came from downtown customers.

Foster's Sports Centre storefront, March 2024
The owner of Foster’s Sports Centre is retiring, and Wallack’s Art Supplies & Framing is moving into that space. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

‘The decision was clear to us’

The Foster’s shop, with its tall ceilings and more than 10,000 square feet, became available because owner Rami Aroosi is retiring.

Following in the footsteps of his in-laws, who launched the business, he operated the store over many decades. 

“There is a lot of good memories in this place,” Aroosi said from the shop in a recent interview with the Centretown Business Improvement Area.

Quick Cranks, a Hintonburg bike store, acquired Foster’s and is taking over its client list.

Instead of moving into the Foster’s building, Quick Cranks is opening a second location on Cooper Street near Bank, in part to take advantage of nearby parking. 

Mustafa Ismail Quick Cranks, Ottawa, Somerset Street, March 9, 2024
Quick Cranks, a Hintonburg bike store owned by Mustafa Ismail, pictured here, has acquired Foster’s business and client list and is opening a second Quick Cranks location on Cooper Street near Bank. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Like Wallack, Quick Cranks’s 23-year-old owner Mustafa Ismail has heard the concerns about Bank.

“But people forget that there’s people who live [and] call Centretown their home,” Ismail said, noting he himself lived at Bank and Slater Street for years. 

Losing Fosters would be a “big hit” to green transportation, cycling and all the other fitness and sport happening downtown, Ismail added. 

“So the decision [to go to the Bank area] was clear to us.”

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