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Street smarts

The Agricola Street area is “like the new Bohemia” and forming a business association. Erin O’Halloran reports.

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Fred Connors says prior to opening his hair salon on the corner of North and Agricola Streets, he was focused only on his shop preparations, not the community in which he had chosen to operate.

Within 24 hours of opening his self-titled salon Fred, Connors saw an abundance of pedestrian and automobile traffic, the diversity of the neighbourhood and the people; in other words, opportunity.

Connors says, “There is an innate uniqueness here.”

He decided to form an association for the community’s independent business owners to create an opportunity to access city and provincial grant money. Connors has already received suggestions for potential grant money, including improving the appearance of older building facades, landscaping, and adding benches and bike racks to the area.

Connors handed out 150 flyers between Cunard and Young streets and along Agricola and Robie streets. The flyers express his views of the area’s business climate, along with community issues such as improving the reputation, safety, and beauty of the area and working to keep what makes the area special: the people.

Connors invited all those interested to discuss creating a business association at his salon and cafe on November 14. He says about 30 businesses were represented at that meeting.

“I’m just one person who is trying to get something started,” Connors says. “We can make it as big as we want or as small as we want but the further reaching you go the more diluted the message becomes. And the needs of people in this community are not the same as people and business owners in other communities.”

Tania Laba, owner of the Fancy Lebanese Bakery and Mid-East Foods Centre across from Fred, grew up in the area. Laba says she supports a local business association because she thinks people regard the north end as a dangerous area and she wants to help change that view to what she sees: an artistic, musical place where you can get different foods.

“Fred came here at the right time,” Laba says. “The area is at its prime and can only get better.” She says a business association had been talked about before Connors opened his business kitty-corner to Laba, but no one took the initiative.

Ray Frizzell, owner of Statement Design, a furniture store further north on Agricola, says he started his business in the north end because the overhead is lower and the area is client-based. He said a client-based business climate offers stability and breeds slow and steady growth.

“The trick is to have a real cache; not get too big too quick,” he says. “What I like about independent merchants is that they have a real vested interest .”

Frizzell said he would like to see the area create a unique destination like a version of 1980s Queen St. West in Toronto. That community supported the arts and hosted many small and diverse merchants.

Also on the corner of Agricola and North Streets is Gus’ Pub and Grill. Owner Dimo Georgakakos grew up in the pub, established 44 years ago. “It’s like the new bohemia,” he says of the new energy in the Agricola community.

Georgakakos says the area had been looking up thanks to an increase in student residents when Connors “plopped down from outer space.”

“First the students, then the gays, then the yuppies move in. That’s the way it works,” Georgakakos says. “I think is a good thing, it’ll benefit and keep an eye on the community.”

The next meeting for the business association will be December 5 at Gus’ Pub. Participants will discuss the name of the association, how to increase membership, establish a fee structure, elect committee members, decide the geographic boundaries of the association and develop a marketing campaign for the area.

Connors says the north end and the Agricola area business association will be different than other commercial areas in the city. “Our goal is not to become Spring Garden Road, where everything there is available in Mic Mac Mall.”

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