3 More Businesses Leaving Downtown Cornwall Ontario – Yes It is Time for Change by Jamie Gilcig – August 1, 2014

3 More Businesses Leaving Downtown Cornwall Ontario – Yes It is Time for Change by Jamie Gilcig – August 1, 2014

going out of businessCORNWALL Ontario – In a recent Freeholder story Economic Development officer Bob Peters goes on about our amazing “growth” in Cornwall; but are we really growing economically?    The city cites new distribution centre jobs, but doesn’t count the loss of our call centres; nor does it focus on recent job losses at Union shops like Sensient Flavors, Phillips, or the other shut downs that impact so many better paying jobs in our area.

In downtown Cornwall we are in the process of seeing at least three doors shut down; Tweed & Hickory, Habitat (which is moving to Brockville) and Needle in a Haystack.  Others are struggling to keep afloat and Cornwall Square will have a huge empty hole as anchor tenant No Frills leaves the downtown core without a grocer.   Their other anchor tenant is Sears Canada who also are struggling.

Cornwall has agreed to give Smart Centres a bag of financial incentives to build in Cornwall; but who will pay for that?  Doesn’t that Corporate welfare put a larger burden on the business tax rate while they have to struggle to compete with the new stores?

habitat facebookI spoke with Rob Csernyik, the owner of Habitat about Cornwall and his store:

CFN: What attracted you to Cornwall and in particular opening up your business here?
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ROB: I was first attracted to opening up a business in Cornwall in 2009 when I was living in the West Island of Montreal. I was interested in opening a home decor store and felt that by opening in a small market, it would be more affordable to start up, that I could cater to an underserved audience and that I could grow the business more easily due to fewer direct competitors.
Some of the things that attracted me specifically to Cornwall were the size of the trade area, the mature population, the affordable commercial rents, the confidence of national retailers in opening new stores here and the upward trend in the development of the downtown area. I also liked that there were a variety of support systems for businesses like the Chamber of Commerce and the SBDC as well as other networking groups and organizations.
Downtown Cornwall appeared to have strong foot traffic, but after over six months here I can say that the baseline of foot traffic is actually quite low. For any new retail business to succeed here, foot traffic would have to improve dramatically. The fact that Downtown Cornwall is a transit hub makes it look like a lot more people are around “shopping” than there actually are. While downtown rents are affordable compared to a city like Montreal, they are high when you consider the low amount of foot traffic.
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CFN:  What was the concept of Habitat and what should Brockville be expecting?
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ROB: The concept for Habitat was an affordable specialty home decor store with a focus on colourful and contemporary items. In my experience visiting home decor stores in various cities across the country I found that a lot of them catered to high price points and that many of them carried the exact same stock. By bringing in goods from a wide variety of sources, I was able to achieve an eclectic and unique product mix that you couldn’t find elsewhere in the market. Like larger home decor chains that people love, items at Habitat were grouped by department and use and presented in a simple, modern setting. Unlike many smaller home decor stores, we kept a focus on the home instead of offering other product lines like giftware and clothing.
Brockville can expect a similar basic concept but there will be tweaks to the formula to reflect customer tastes including a branding change.
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CFN: Why are you switching from Cornwall to Brockville which has half the population of our fair city?
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ROB: Brockville had always been on my mind as a future market for Habitat, so it’s a natural progression to move the business there. I’d been actively researching the particular location I’m moving to since March. (Though it was originally viewed as a potential second location.) Even though Brockville is half the size of Cornwall, the trade area for Brockville is 100,000, their downtown boasts double the number of businesses of Downtown Cornwall and there is a greater amount of tourist traffic in their downtown due to the marina and the Thousand Islands.
In Brockville I found a great location at King Street West and Perth Street that will dramatically reduce my rent costs each my month compared to what I pay in Cornwall. When you partner this with the increased foot traffic within Downtown Brockville and the ability to benefit from the DBIA’s events and marketing, the option is extremely attractive. I would be remiss not to add that I have an option for part-time work with the Brockville store option that I lacked in Cornwall. This allows the business a bit more breathing room as it grows and helps to lower our breakeven requirement.
If I had April’s revenues in Brockville, I would need to increase the store’s traffic by only 60 people to reach breakeven. To increase those revenues to the breakeven point in Downtown Cornwall, I would need an 204 extra people to come in. Based on my calculations the first number is not unreasonable to achieve or surpass while the second would be virtually impossible given my experiences here in Cornwall.
I had been patiently waiting out the winter because January, February and March are the worst months for most retailers. Combining this with the fact that Habitat was a new business and the weather was consistently terrible, it was a nail-biting first few months in business. Though our numbers grew month-over-month, by the time the spring hit our customer traffic and sales dropped dramatically. Bucking all conventional wisdom, May was my worst month yet.
Without meeting key revenue benchmarks I had to start asking questions about the viability of Habitat in this market. I knew Habitat could not grow enough to justify staying in this location and with my lease renewal looming, I would have to move or close the business. Staying downtown would have solved none of our problems. Other spaces lease for comparable rates to what we currently pay and there would be no major difference in foot traffic. More affordable spaces in Cornwall had already been deemed unfeasible when I first scouted locations.
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CFN: What will you miss most about Cornwall?
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ROB: I’ve been lucky to meet some great customers here and I’ll miss having them pop by the store. Hopefully, they will come visit the new store in Brockville. I’ll also miss going to The Grind for coffee or getting giant sandwiches from Riley’s Bakery.
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CFN: What strikes you as some of the differences between Cornwall and Brockville?
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ROB: A lot of people I’ve spoken with seem to have a “Cornwall=Bad, Brockville=Good” attitude which I think is nearsighted and isn’t often grounded in anything specific. There are positive and negative points to any city. The reality of living somewhere or doing business somewhere often sits in the middle of those two extremes.
On some levels I don’t think it’s fair to compare the two downtowns. For instance, while Downtown Brockville does have double the businesses of Downtown Cornwall, Cornwall has two areas that function as downtowns (Le Village being the other) so there is obviously less density and foot traffic. As Cornwall isn’t located adjacent to the Thousand Islands, it’s also not realistic to directly compare tourism traffic.
What is a reasonable comparison, and, what is one of the key differences that has helped me make the decision to relocate my business are the events and marketing done by the DBIA in Brockville. When I think about how to get the level of foot traffic I need, it isn’t enough to just market myself, I need to be involved in collective events and promotions. In Downtown Brockville’s event and marketing plans I could see direct ways that my business would benefit.
I attended the annual general meeting for the Downtown Cornwall DBIA and while I think they do a good job in certain parts of their portfolio, I feel the events and marketing end has a lot of room for improvement. Downtown Brockville has eight major shopping events throughout the year in addition to smaller ones. Their calendar for the rest of 2014 is already set and business can make projections and plan sales accordingly.
I opened in Downtown Cornwall last December 7th and since that date I have seen no events or marketing come forth from the DBIA. Given the recent closures of several downtown businesses this needs to be a stronger component in their operations going forward. Events that are relevant to consumers are the best bet the downtown has to increase foot traffic in the short term. Both myself and Tricot Treat Imports cited foot traffic as reasons for closing up shop downtown within the last few months. I think the conversation needs to shift to instead of talking about how far the downtown has come to talking about what needs to be done to further improve it and to create a healthier environment for new businesses.
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Clearly we are failing as a city to help our own economy and downtown core while our well paid officials spout praise which really isn’t being truthful with the public.   When a savvy smart young business person invests in Cornwall and then decides to move shop only  an hour away to a city of half our population that should be the proverbial canary in a coal mine?
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When the CFIB and MoneySense keep ranking Cornwall at the bottom of their charts year after year that also should be a clue that there may be an issue as opposed to statements from our mayor and chamber president that it’s simply a problem with the ranking system.
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We had a downtown Farmer’s market that was very well received. I know this as we were a part of its success those first two years.    It literally was killed by Heart of the City’s Denis Carr and the DBIA.    Why did that happen?  Why was it pushed to fail?   It wasn’t hurting our city or costing much if anything?  And it brought people downtown on a Saturday morning which clearly isn’t happening now.
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Mr. Csernyik pointed to a lack of events by the DBIA.   Why is the DBIA all but invisible?  Why did they stop supporting Lift Off?   Why do they boycott this newspaper?  Why isn’t there more coverage of the DBIA in the media that they don’t boycott?
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There needs to be a clear plan and joint action between the city and downtown business instead of secret waterfront meetings between the mayor and the Federal government.
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Looking again at Brockville, when they had their growth spurt with big box stores near the highway it impacted their downtown core; but look at what they’ve done to rejuvenate it and look at their success.
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Cornwall needs more than flower pots and chairs in parking lots.
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Businesses need to be able to feel comfortable setting up shop.   Our permit department needs to either improve and adapt or certain staff need to be replaced.  Restaurants should never have to wait a year to open.   Businesses should not see events hurt while City Hall messes with their liquor license applications because of over zealous fire inspectors who own fire service businesses in contradiction to the city’s own conflict of interest policy.
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Mostly it comes down to wanting to improve things.    We in Cornwall collectively have to change our culture to attract business and talent rather than scare it away as more and more people leave.  It’s as simple as that and it starts with our own Chamber of Commerce, DBIA, City Hall.
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It clearly is time for some actual new blood.  Not just replacing one bobble head with another.
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Cornwall can be a place of opportunity; but not the way it’s being done today.  We need to attract young entrepreneurs just as much as we do other businesses.
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39 Comments on "3 More Businesses Leaving Downtown Cornwall Ontario – Yes It is Time for Change by Jamie Gilcig – August 1, 2014"

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David Oldham
Guest

Rob Brockville at one time had more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in Canada. To the best of my knowledge this hasn’t changed (any change would likely be minor at best anyways). Brockville has been a forward looking community and Cornwall’s loss will be Brockville’s gain and I wish you great success. You display a winning attitude.

Marc Houde
Guest
Good article for 99% of the time. Very interesting to read an interview with someone closing up shop. It’s much like progressive companies are doing where someone who quits (if on relatively good terms) is asked to provide an exit interview with Human Resources. “why are you quiting?” “is there something at this company that should be done differently to retain good resources?” etc. etc. Very valuable information. Where you lost the 1% though Jamie was at the very end. You start with a great interview…then you editorially ask the readers good questions to make them think…and then BAM! you… Read more »
Reg Coffey
Member

Marc, the bobble head comment comes directly from a CBC review of a recent book in which the author interviews a large number of sitting MPs and MPPs. They describe themselves as bobble head dolls and trained seals. Bobble head is now a colloquialism for political appointees who have very little choice or inclination but to simply agree with what the leaders say. Bobble heads take no action on their own and have no initiative.

Reg Coffey
Member

The book I was referring to is “Tragedy In the Commons” by Allison Loat & Micheal MacMillan. Reviews can be found on http://www.samaracanada.com/our-book.

David Oldham
Guest

Unfortunately the Bobble Head reference applies to the Cornwall political scene. The reference was appropriate simply because it is the reality of the Cornwall situation. One could refrain from calling a spade a spade but look where it has taken us so far. Marc, I would respectfully suggest that we are long overdue is telling it like it is instead of blindly following/accepting the current leaderships style of avoidance of admitting the truth, on a number of levels. What do you want the future to look like?

Hugger1
Guest

I think it’s sad that we’re losing three more businesses in the downtown area. But all cities go through cycles. I think the DBIA needs to take a serious look at what is happening and why. And yet another reason to clean sweep most of city council come election time.

Mike M
Guest

I second that comment of Hugger1. Time for change..

garywsamler
Member
Great article Jamie and I like and agree with the comments made by your readers. So sorry to see another small business leave our downtown core and wish the best to Mr.Csernyik in moving Habitat to Brockville.This trend will continue and worsen as more and more small businesses move out of Cornwall as this trend seems to be happening more often. I feel that if we re-elect any of the people who have already been sitting around the council table for the past seven plus years our cities future will be doomed. The election this fall will be very important… Read more »
jules
Guest
Mr. Oldham is very right indeed when he said that Brockville had the most millionaires in Canada and I knew that since I was a child. Cornwall is a nothing compared to a lot of towns half its size and I know that from many people. We had friends who had a business in Brockville and then they moved to Cornwall and they are from Ottawa. When my husband told them that they should have moved to Cornwall instead they just roared with laughter thinking that my husband was giving them a good joke. Cornwall has lost many great and… Read more »
thebeezneez
Guest

Excellent points made here Jamie. May be the city’s last chance to improve before reaching the point of no return.

Simon
Guest
Remember the wonderful welcome given to the Federal call centre that was built on Campbell Avenue in the east end? It’s an area that is poorly served by public transit, with no local businesses within a walk, and it’s not owned by the government at all… they could pack up and leave overnight. But the sale served the short term purposes of a lazy ineffective mayor and council… and it certainly lined the pockets of the two realtors that handled the deal. Meanwhile, there is a vacant lot at 6th and Sydney and there was a soon to be vacant… Read more »
Simon
Guest

Make that last line:
“now foreign owned Wal-Mart — by swallowing up SCM — is our biggest employer of low paid non-unionized workers.”

Simon
Guest
And don’t get me started on how all the Cornwall taxpayer subsidized development and tax incentives to the transportation and warehouse developments in our industrial park have sparked a real estate and tax base boom for South Glengarry and Glen Walter. Just look at the new trucking and service centre facilities that have grown around their side of Boundary Road and the 401. Time to quit talking… it’s time to expand our tax base and expand Cornwall into these areas that love our services and public facilities but don’t want to pay our taxes. And another plus… it will then… Read more »
Trailblazer
Guest
What really got me was reading how Bob Peters was in the freeloader looking like it’s all because of him we have a great city, new businesses, growth bla bla bla. I want Bob Peters to talk about the many companies and stores that have closed up shop in this town, so what about the bridge, that was old news 3 years ago along the Benson Centre, Shoppers, Target, you really are a piece of work Peters to sit there and go on and on about the great city of Cornwall but no mention of all the lies and corruption… Read more »
Hugger1
Guest

Politicians and upper city management in most cities will only tell you about the good things, not the stores closing or job losses. Kind of sucks.

Jason
Guest

Hey Jamie…

Tweed and hickory is also closing its downtown Kingston location, maybe they are retiring and liquidating assets.

On a side note… looks like your good old “social media guru” friend’s wife is opening some sort of organic food store downtown, I’m sure their permits will be expedited.

Jane Doe
Guest

American Standard is closing before the end of the year too moving to the US. More jobs lost

madamepatate
Member

Terrible to think that so much of the tax payers money was spent on Pitt St. to still here theres no business there,very wasteful council.Another Quebecor who believed he could do business and make money in Cornwall,did it 2 times myself and ill never do it again,but now im in Quebec and no waiting on permits , police harassment , and the one thing i don’t have to look at is the poverty of the young you have to live with them to know how deep it goes .

Hugger1
Guest

What does the city have to do with The Port getting a liquor license? Aren’t liquor licenses handled by LLBO?

Hugger1
Guest

And people why businesses hate dealing with city hall or for that matter any government.

jules
Guest
Think about why businesses are leaving Cornwall and think logically. The vast majority of the population of Cornwall does not work and are either retired, ODSP, or welfare. Most who work are at minimum wage. The vast majority of the population are elderly and most on fixed incomes. The high taxes drive businesses away and so does Bare Ass and his crooked company. Cornwall is situated in the very right place but there are many factors that bring it down. The best is to amalgamate with the communities around you and nobody gets a free ride and everyone must pay.… Read more »
Furtz
Member

There is little that any city, town, or municipality in Ontario can do to retain or attract decent paying manufacturing jobs. That train pulled out in 1988 with the Mulroney / Reagan trade deal. With a stroke of a pen, our whole manufacturing economy was handed over to the ruling elites and their stock traders.

jules
Guest

I do have an idea and that is to take part of Pitt Street where the businesses have left and maybe make it something like Sparks Street Mall here in Ottawa. That is what George Assaly tried to do in past years but without success. I don’t know what the rest of you think. I find Cornwall’s streets too narrow for the buses to go in another direction but being that you all live down there maybe you all can share some light on this to make it better for people to shop.

Hugger1
Guest

Agree with Furtz.

AS for making a pedestrian mall out of Pitt Street I don’t know if that would work. Pitt Street is not very wide and width is needed for a pedestrian mall to be successful. Also a good mix of retailers is needed.

jules
Guest
Furtz remember when we were talking about Lying Brian Mulroney and the Bush clan and Reagan taking jobs overseas. Well in today’s news a car plant in China had both a horrible accident and fatalities. Everything is made fast and out to the suckers (we are the suckers) to feather the pockets of the filthy elite. Read the article and read what people are posting. This isn’t the first time that these things have happened even in clothing industries in Pakistan and other places. Explosion at car parts factory in eastern China kills 68 people, injures nearly 200 https://ca.news.yahoo.com/explosion-car-parts All… Read more »
Marc Houde
Guest

We tried Pitt street as a pedestrian mall. With no parking, nobody went. So they tore it all up again and put 3 parking spots here…3 parking spots there..it’s a weird street. I don’t have the answers…just pointing out that it’s been tried.

jules
Guest
Yes I agree with you Mark that parking is a big problem and the worst is right here in Ottawa during the day. A lot of people go to work here by bus and walk the rest of the way. The parking fees here are enormously high if you can find a place which would be a miracle. If you go to the parking lots a lot of times they are full and the person at the gate cannot allow you in. I know what all of you mean with the parking. What I was thinking was to have those… Read more »
jules
Guest
Hugger I agree fully with you that Pitt Street and all the streets in Cornwall are mighty narrow and not wide enough for a really good mall and yes you need a variety of stores and that is what I had in mind. The problem is that it costs money. Mr. George Assaly had a wonderful idea and I always had the same idea but like Mark said that there is no parking for cars as well. Hugger you were born and brought up here in Ottawa and lived here a long time and you know the parking problem here.… Read more »
jules
Guest
Every time we go down to Cornwall it is a mighty sad and sorry site. Back in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s era Cornwall thrived. When NAFTA, CAFTA and all this globalization kicked in Cornwall died and I mean died. It is like going to visit a graveyard it is gone unless a miracle is pulled out of a hat. Well educated people have left because there is nothing left to go to. Jamie how are you going to keep young people in Cornwall when there is nothing to live for down there. People left in much better times than… Read more »
Simon
Guest

There is always talk about developing the waterfront as an economic shot in the arm for Cornwall’s downtown… but why not just dredge up all of Lamoureux Park, right up to First and Pitt — Ta-Da! Bring the river to Mohammed (PBUH).

Grant and Malyon will continue getting rich, the way they do now when we taxpayers subsidize and outright pay for the new infrastructure and the tax handouts given to wealthy companies by “friends” at City Hall.

And maybe Bar Q, Schnitzels and Truffles could put in swim-up bars for the new “wave” of business.

David Oldham
Guest
@Marc Houde …the pedestrian mall you talk about was destined to fail before it was even begun. I researched the city records at the library 28 years ago to discover that the city council of the day hired a consulting firm at significant expense only to learn that the project had an 80% chance of failure. Not satisfied that they got the correct answer they hired another consulting firm and received exactly the same results. Council then decided that neither consulting firm knew what they were talking about and voted to go against both reports and go ahead with the… Read more »
David Oldham
Guest
@Furtz … the shift in world economics was already in full swing before the free trade deal was inked. Manufacturing was already quietly leaving to areas in the pacific rim, union demands in the mid eighties sped up the process of sending jobs to business friendly environments around the globe. Not to bash unions they definitely filled a need after the depression, but unions in their thirst for money and power forgot that the basic premise of business is to turn a profit and that extortion was best left to the Chinese and the corrupt economic system in the Soviet… Read more »
jules
Guest
I remember when my dad worked at the Cotton Mill in Cornwall and his last day of work was back in 1960 and the weaving shed went over to Venezuela back then. Back in the 80’s era Domtar was getting fines and horrendous fines because of air and water pollution and so much so that they couldn’t afford to keep the mill in Cornwall nor Canada anymore so they took off for China. The same holds true for Courthaulds because of the horrible smell in the air and they too could no longer continue. These big industries found that our… Read more »
Hugger1
Guest
Tweed & Hickory are also closing their Kingston and Timmins locations. Perhaps the owners are retiring or have had enough of the rat race and couldn’t find buyers for the stores. Needle in a Haystack and Habitat are closing; all small businesses. It’s hard for small businesses to survive. They have to find the right city / location / clientele. If they don’t find the right combination they won’t survive. The owner of Habitat is moving his store to Brockville. Obviously he feels Brockville is a better fit for his store than Cornwall. This cannot be pinned solely on Cornwall.… Read more »
Hugger1
Guest

I was by “Habitat” today. A new store is opening there in September. Why do you never mention new stores opening and just stores closing?

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