Downtown Kitchener is full of anticipation. The proliferation of condos, high-end restaurants and a sleek, new transit system all seemingly cater to young, higher-earning professionals, and so mark demographic changes in the downtown’s core.
All this change is good for some, and yet I fear it is also bad for others. Capers Sportsbar, currently located in the American Hotel building, is likely to be displaced when that building becomes more condos and an upscale retail space.
Establishments like Capers represent, to many, the old face of downtown, one sorely in need of a facelift. To others, Capers is an (increasingly) important space on that block, and gathering place downtown. Every year, Capers serves a free Christmas dinner for many downtown community members. And while Capers isn’t a public space, its closing down means there is one less place downtown for those those who may feel less welcome among the influx of affluent tech professionals and the amenities that attract them.
Indeed, I am writing this article in the beautifully renovated public library in downtown Kitchener. This branch of the KPL is one of few places in this city where all people are welcome to spend time and are not barred if they are unable to pay the cost of admission (even if it’s one cup of coffee). This is great, and important: there should be room for everyone in downtown Kitchener, regardless of where they fall on the socio-economic spectrum. I am not alone. Waterloo Region’s Gentrification Fixation, which ran in the last issue of the Community Edition, included many voices in this community who aim to keep downtown inclusive.
And so November 11 marked a significant day for our Region. At exactly 5:30 p.m., Dollarama opened its doors at King and Frederick Streets. Since 1991, the building housed the Bargain Shop, the discount chain launched by Woolworths, which occupied the building for 80 years. When the Bargain Shop closed in January, downtown resident Kathryn Leisemer told the Record that “the bargain store is a means of necessity for the downtown people, to buy laundry soap, toothpaste, toilet paper, even food.” There are no other grocery stores within walking distance, she continued, and “Shoppers Drug Mart is too expensive.”
I was, admittedly, less than thrilled when I first heard rumours of Dollarama moving into the space the Bargain Shop vacated. As I walked past the Woolworth’s building every day on my way to work, I started to see Dollarama’s presence in the downtown in a new way. Again, there would be a place for people to access the essentials, a place where their hard earned dollars or insufficient and rigidly fixed incomes stretch further.
To be clear, purchasing cheap, imported goods made by underpaid individuals abroad is not going to create the deep social and structural changes required to foster a truly inclusive society or downtown. However, the presence of Dollarama in downtown Kitchener is one step towards creating a more inclusive downtown, where people of varied income brackets have access to services and shops that meet their needs. Until our government decision-makers recognize the inadequacy of government assistance and actively support policy that means everyone has enough money to afford the essentials of life produced in a way that benefit us all, I will continue to celebrate Dollarama’s presence in the downtown.