Nfld. & Labrador

Old town, new look: 6 new stores open in Bonavista with hopes of revitalizing town

Bonavista Creative hopes a new project aimed at fostering new businesses will start a new chapter in the town's storied history.

The businesses have opened in the past month as part of a revitalization plan

Six new businesses have opened their doors on Church Street inside historic residential properties. 1:40

Bonavista Creative hopes a project aimed at fostering new businesses will start a new chapter in the town's storied history. 

Six new businesses have opened their doors on Church Street inside historic residential properties, after they were restored to commercial buildings designed with the new tenants in mind.

"We worked with the tenants at a very early stage and customized the buildings inside and out for what they want and what they need to the best of our abilities," said John Norman, chief operations officer of Bonavista Creative. 

"Then we leased them at very generous rates so that we can cover our costs."

The Boreal Diner is one of six new businesses opening in Bonavista this summer, thanks to help from Bonavista Creative. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

The buildings were purchased and restored by the company at no cost to the new tenants.

"What we looked at was revitalizing these buildings and removing risk," said Norman.

"Not every business owner — especially a young new entrepreneur — can say I'm going to take two or three or four hundred thousand dollars and restore this building in Bonavaista and try a business."

New opportunity

Jon Howse and Sylvia Mitford are two of the new business owners on Church Street. They've opened The Boreal Diner with plans to work with residents to offer locally-sourced food on their menu.

Howse, who owns Fixed Coffee & Baking in St. John's, jumped at the chance to start something new in Bonavista. 

John Norman is the COO of Bonavista Creative, the company that's helped these six new businesses open in Bonavista. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

"We had a meeting and they explained it all to me. How they're trying to attract new business in these beautiful heritage properties," said Howse.

"They were going to pay for most of the renovations, they were trying to keep the rent as cheap as possible. It seemed like a great oppurtunity."

Co-owner and chef Mitford said she enjoys the idea of starting something new at a time when there's so much economic uncertainty in rural Newfoundland.

John Howse owns Fixed Coffee & Baking in St. John's and has decided to open The Boreal Diner in Bonavista with Sylvie Mitford. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

"We have this kind of devastating budget and yet Bonavista is this little hub of entrepreneur spirit," said Mitford.

"It's like moving things into the rural area and it feels very sustainable. I'm excited to be part of something that I really believe in."

Boosting local economy

Karen Dewling operates East Coast Glow, a shop that sells organic and vegan skincare products.

She said opening as one of six new businesses takes off some pressure.

Sylvie Mitford is the chef and co-owner of The Boreal Diner. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

"Everybody's really, really excited. It's so nice to be part of something good in this province," said Dewling.

"There's a lot of doom and gloom it seems lately and to be able to be part of a group who's bringing business to a small town. It's really great."

Optimistic openings

Paddy Barry has opened a gallery in Bonavista after five years as a photographer on Fogo Island and ambassador at the Fogo Island Inn.

Barry said there's a similar feeling with what Bonavista Creative is doing when compared with what's happened on Fogo Island with the Shorefast Foundation.

Karen Dewling is the owner and operator of East Coast Glow in Bonavista. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

"Both places are old and both places are trying to find their way with respect and dignity in the 21st century to survive," he said.

Barry said Bonavista's size will help guide its future.

"I think Bonavista is a bigger regional centre so it might be easier, there's more business here."

Photographer Paddy Barry has been around for major changes on Fogo Island and is now at the start of a new economic push in Bonavista. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

About the Author

Chris Ensing

CBC News

Chris Ensing is a Video Journalist for CBC Windsor.