A new pilot program aimed at revitalizing vacant storefronts in the centre of London, Ont., is helping 18 new businesses to move into the core.
The Explore the Core program is helping to create 160 new jobs and repurpose 43,000 square feet of vacant or unused space.
The announcement was made at The Grove, in the West Fair District, Monday morning with a number of business leaders and small business owners involved in the initiative in attendance.
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“Explore the Core is a new marketing campaign between all the East Village and the downtown Main Street London folks to help make it easier for companies to identify vacant spaces, remove barriers and constraints that might be preventing them from taking spaces and just overall marketing and promotional initiatives,” said Kapil Lakhotia, president of the London economic development corporation.
The project is part of the City of London’s Core Area Action Plan, through $300,000 from the London Community and Recovery Network in partnership with the London Economic Development Corporation, Small Business Center, Main Street London, and the Old East Village BIA.
Together the organizations worked to come up with new initiatives to attract more businesses to the core.
“It’s especially important in a post-COVID environment as retail is evolving to a new model, a lot of folks who are looking to start their own businesses and take space downtown require the supports, the tools, and the advice and guidance through all of these different channels. It’s truly a no-wrong-door approach; wherever leads originate, we find the right resources, incentives and supports for them to ensure long-term success.”
Lakhotia says entrepreneurs have access to the coaching and training programs to help them launch businesses, grants to help cover start-up costs and initiatives which help identify unused spaces.
Deputy Mayor Josh Morgan said that it’s great to see entrepreneurs having an interest in building businesses downtown.
“The downtown is the economic engine for the city, and no city can survive without a strong downtown,” Morgan said.
“Our downtown core was on an upswing, we were at the start of multiple residential developments, multiple businesses looking to move. There are significant investments by the municipality, and things like Dundas Place and the pandemic set all that back. Now, as we start to emerge from the pandemic, you see that energy starting again.”
Among the businesses making the move and or opening for the first time are Buzz Bagelz Inc., Saisha’s Patisserie, Tropical Food Terminal, Blanca Beauty Bar, and Mr. and Mrs. Bao.
At Monday’s announcement, Buzz Bagelz owner Jeremy Glied-Beliak said he is grateful for the help in navigating the process of opening a business.
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“I’m very excited to be part of the core here. It’s a great community here, and they put a lot of time and money into renovating the Dundas Street core. I am very proud of being part of this community to bring everyone together and to create a buzz,” he said.
The 23-year-old business owner and recent Western University grad is set to open the bagel shop at the corner of Richmond and Dundas streets the first week of August, with a goal to providing a late-night food option for people looking for alternatives to fast food.
“I think it’s such an exciting time to be a part of the London community and to be a part of the food community and to be a part of the downtown core. These are basically ecosystems to help not only individuals grow, but for us to build a better neighbourhood for our community,” said Julia Hou, co-owner of Mr. and Mrs. Bao.
Mr. and Mrs. Bao is a chain of Asian fusion comfort food restaurants that first started in London with a food truck in 2017. The company has since expanded to five stores, soon to be six, with the opening of a new downtown London location called Mingle by Mr. and Mrs. Bao on Richmond Street.