Business owners near the new Department of National Defence headquarters in Ottawa's west end are looking forward to a surge in business with the pending arrival of a big employer.

Nortel left the sprawling Carling campus in 2009.

The federal government bought the 150-hectare site in 2010 and 8,500 workers are expected to be relocated there beginning this week.

The department is calling the migration of military staffers "one of the largest office moves ever completed in Canada."

For small, mom-and-pop businesses in the shadow of the long-vacant site, the new customers are eagerly awaited.

Edward Li bought Korn's Convenience at Moodie Drive and Carling Avenue from a university classmate in 2011. Sales were slow, but the seller assured Li the Nortel ghost-town would soon be re-populated with hungry soldiers. 

"He told me, 'DND will be moved here soon,' so I thought, that's a good time to take this business. But, until now, I'm still waiting," said Li.

Edward Li

Edward Li took over Korn's Convenience in the Crystal Beach plaza in 2011, expecting DND staff to make the move to the nearby Carling campus that year. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Long-expected move slow to come

Military employees didn't fill up the former tech campus in 2011, or the next year.

Li kept waiting. His regular customers who claimed to have inside knowledge of the move promised him business would soon pick up.

In 2014, with sales stagnant, Li and his wife decided to sell the store and move on. Then, a baby arrived and they decided to put the plan on hold.

They're still waiting, now reading news headlines with an increasingly skeptical eye.

vegan eatery

Your Fit Mind Body, a vegan eatery and yoga studio, opened near the new DND headquarters in November. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Eager for lunchtime customers

Tammy Robinson opened a vegan eatery and yoga studio in the same plaza last November.

Robinson's husband, a retired Royal Canadian Air Force pilot, knew National Defence would finally be making the move to Carling Avenue in 2017.

The family moved from Toronto last summer and opened Your Fit Mind Body with the aim of bringing healthier lifestyle options to the neighbourhood of Crystal Beach.

"Mindfulness, self-awareness. How to eat healthy, how to get moving," she said. "How to live your best self now."

Robinson is also banking on the expectation that some of the nearly 9,000 expected military staff will stop by for lunchtime yoga classes.

"It's set up that [in] that 60 minutes they come in, order their food, go into their class and when they leave they've got their smoothie and their healthy meal to go."

Yesterday, the moving trucks of specialty office-relocation service providers were streaming into the new DND headquarters.

The staggered transfer of workers to the former Nortel site is expected to take three years to complete.