ED ALLARD: The strategy to fill up Le Village hasn't panned out

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Le Village Business Improvement Association has been wringing its hands over the growing number of vacant storefronts along Montreal Road.  The idea, back some years ago now, was to showcase Le Village as a district that reflects the city's francophone culture and, ideally, draw on business from the francophone community.  But it hasn’t worked out too well.  Perhaps Valleyfield and Vaudreuil are just too close.  

The new Cotton Mills condominiums are supposed to invigorate the area, but I’m not so sure.  Granted, it’s early days yet; only a fraction of the eventual number of units is in use.  But how many of those occupants actually spend their winters here?  Businesses don’t do well when the customer base disappears for lengthy periods.  I suspect the new units will also attract those with both the means and the motivation to winter elsewhere.  Of course, that assumes they'd be the main customers for Le Village businesses in any event and that’s a big assumption.  

Then there are the grand plans for the tank lands and the port area.  The Trillium issue is a bit of a setback right now, but eventually the area will be given over to more desirable uses.  The newer condos will definitely be focussed towards the river and the tank lands, but any further development of that area will just draw more people away from Montreal Road.   

For too many of us, Le Village has become a place to drive through rather than to stop, shop and mingle.  It’s become the part of town that got left behind.  Some operations are doing well, but they’re in the minority.  

The business association is struggling to find ways to change that.  Some Heart of the City money could spruce up storefronts, especially the vacant ones.  The Streetscape study suggests improvements to the roadway and sidewalks and a new public parkette in front of Nativity Church.  But putting lipstick on a pig doesn’t make it something else.  Even brand new buildings there can’t attract tenants, and some building owners are having trouble selling, so there's a deeper problem to be addressed.

It’s time to accept that Le Village needs to be retooled.  It can’t compete with box stores and large commercial chains, with their ample and handy free parking.  While flea markets and tattoo parlours have their niche, they tend to drive away customers for other businesses.  Brookdale Avenue has become the new local shopping mecca.  

Some are talking about a new home for the francophone Centre Culturel there.  It's an idea worth pursuing, but should not be limited to a francophone centre.  Cornwall needs some form of general center for arts and culture.  It doesn't have to be one building; it can be a collection of galleries, workshops, boutiques and related businesses in the same area.  That would add some true value to the community and would make Cornwall a more inviting place to come to live.  But it's a large district, so it will need more than just that to survive.  

Nobody is seeking city money for anything as yet, which is good.  This is primarily a business issue, not a city hall issue, and it should remain that way.  There are a lot of challenges involved and a fair amount of risk.  There needs to be a solid plan in place before anyone considers our tax money.  It should only be invested in something that benefits taxpayers as a whole where the risk is low and there are guaranteed dividends through increased tax assessment.  

Innovative, successful entrepreneurs look at failing cases and see opportunities.  Le Village needs some of those.  

And that's the way I see it.

Organizations: Village Business Improvement Association, Nativity Church

Geographic location: Montreal Road, Valleyfield, Cornwall Brookdale Avenue

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  • Gerry Samson
    March 29, 2014 - 15:43

    I believe there has to be more grants to attract small businesses in Le Village. There should be a contest open to the public to see what they believe to attract more small businesses in this area. A local bank branch should be opened to serve the residents. Dentists, doctors offices, even clinic buildings would attract more business in Le Village. Anyone with any more ideas to attract small business please contact Councillor Samson 613 360 9684. Thank you!