Two tales of one street: Windsor's Chatham Street is very different east to west
It’s the best of times and the worst of times on downtown Windsor's Chatham Street, depending on whether your business is located on the east or west side of Ouellette Avenue.
A section of the street’s west side in the heart of downtown is being described as “lifeless” after many bars and restaurants closed over the years. ‘For Sale’ signs still plaster the windows of vacant buildings.
Some are fighting to survive amidst the emptiness.
Ryan Smith has owned Pause Cafe on Chatham Street West for 12 years. He’s on a block of Chatham Street where there are just as many empty storefronts as there are open ones.
“There’s fewer people on the street, a lot less foot traffic - tremendous impact,” he said. "There’s no vibe on the street, it’s lifeless, it’s dead. The tourists look down here, they’re confused, they don’t want to walk down a desolate street.“
Smith said it’s a lot of little things that add up like cracked sidewalks, buses roaring by, and a lack of benches or nice lighting fixtures the city has installed in others parts of the city.
"The street just screams neglect,” he said.
When Smith first opened, there were seven patios on his stretch of the street. They’re gone now and Smith relies on his regulars just to stay afloat. It’s a struggle to bring in new business.
“You like to grow as a business, I’d love to open up a second location in Walkerville or a third location in Sandwich, but I just don’t see that happening,” he said.
Two prominent properties sitting empty at 119 and 149 Chatham St. are in the possession of the WFCU Real Estate Corporation. The 21 residential units above are nearly all full, but the commercial space below has been sitting empty for at least two-and-a-half years.
WFCU President and CEO Eddie Francis tells CBC News they’ve been “aggressively marketing” the properties with some interest, but have found no committed buyers.
“Some of the people who have come through our units have expressed parking as an issue. A lot of people were waiting to see what was happening with the (University of Windsor) law school and the Paul Martin Building,” Francis said.
“A lot of people wanted to know what the vision holds for downtown. Unfortunately people take a look at downtown Windsor and they don’t yet see a significant amount of foot traffic that they would expect to support a level of investment.”
Meanwhile, on Chatham Street East, Obsession Hair Designs’ owner Barbara Amato is getting ready to celebrate 30 years of being in business.
“This side of the street - all full - where I was by myself for several years,” she said. "I think it’s starting to come back because the businesses are opening.“
Although Amato's end of the street has seen its bumps in the road, the area has improved significantly in the past three or four years, she said.
"I’m so happy to see the people and great food so you can come down and have something to eat and it’s just nice, it’s alive again.”
Amato is even considering hiring more part-time staff.
She said her area of Chatham Street is looking well maintained with large flowers right outside her business. She credits the city for keeping up the area.
“I can see it growing and downtown will grow in time, give it a few more years it will start, I’m very hopeful."