The Kitchener-Waterloo Region is undergoing a huge facelift in the next year or so. The construction of the LRT, an $80-million development happening underway in downtown Kitchener’s east end by 2019 and future condominium developments have paved the way for local businesses to be brought to fruition to the stretch of King Street and the downtown core.
In uptown Waterloo however, developments have been problematic for retailers, as popular and beloved businesses have been closing down. Some local business owners in the area believe these closures are due to what seems be the never-ending construction of the streetscape improvements, including the two-year installation of the Ion light rail. The developments affected retail sales, caused deliveries to become more difficult and impacted rising rent prices.
Reported by CTV News, over 15 uptown businesses have closed since July 2017, one of the latest being Eating Well Organically, which will close its door this month after framing itself as a local favourite for over 20 years.
Fortunately, more business owners are seeing new opportunities to thrive in the new streetscapes, as over 17 businesses have opened their doors to the public in the last year. That, or a new generation of entrepreneurs will possibly take over their favourite stores, restaurants and businesses to keep their local market alive for a new crowd of customers.
One local store, Full Circle Foods, has been a staple in Kitchener for more than 20 years. Formerly owned by Patricia Szlagowski, the store has been located on Charles Street West since 1998.
But last month, Full Circle Foods’ ownership changed hands as co-owners Julia Gogoleva and Sam Nabi took over business.
“At first it was the peanut butter that drew me in,” Gogoleva recalled. “Then as I started to change my eating [habits], I have been transitioning to veganism and had been coming in here a lot more.”
After moving to Kitchener five years ago, Gogoleva grew a deep admiration for the local food markets, so once she and Nabi saw a ‘For Sale’ sign at Full Circle Foods a year prior, it was almost inevitable they own the business.
“We found out the price [and] we figured people are buying houses that are kind of our age in our financial situation, so then maybe we can get a business,” Gogoleva said. “We just never considered that it would be an option for us in this time of our lives because we’re young [people].”
With the changes happening in downtown Kitchener, Gogoleva admitted that she and Nabi were doubtful before taking on their new business venture. Fortunately, Gogoleva feels more enthusiastic about taking over Full Circle Foods, especially after seeing the support from local community members who helped the young entrepreneurs take over the business.
“We want a place where you know the people who work there and you see your friends shopping too, a place where it’s part of your downtown life, with unique products that the employees are proud of; that’s the kind of society we’re really into and we think there’s a lot of support for it too,” said Gogoleva.
In addition to selling health food, Nabi and Gogoleva also hope to find a creative way to use Full Circle’s parking lot this summer. The space could hopefully encourage community members to come together and enjoy art or music or great food.
Amidst the stories of businesses closing their doors, or feeling generally pessimistic about how construction and development may impact small business owners, Nabi and Gogoleva are offering an alternate optimistic narrative.
“There’s always going to be doubts and business is really risky, but we’re really excited to do this and we’re willing to take those risks,” she said.
Sam Nabi is a current contributor to TCE and is the former Web Manager for WLU Student Publications, TCE’s parent organization.