Retail rejuvenation: New businesses breathe life into St. John's neighbourhood

The foot traffic is back, and the streets are buzzing again: The arrival of a number of new businesses is breathing new life into one St. John's area that had fallen out of use.

New business flocks to Elizabeth Avenue

7 years ago
Duration 1:18
Featured VideoBaine Johnston chairman Chris Collingwood speaks about his new real-estate development and furniture store on Elizabeth Avenue in St. John's.

The foot traffic is back, and the streets are buzzing again: The arrival of new business is breathing new life into one St. John's neighbourhood.

Since last fall, four new businesses have opened surrounding the intersection of Elizabeth Avenue and New Cove Road — an area that had fallen out of use since the departure of Canadian Tire in mid-2014.

All the development is good news to Coun. Sheliagh O'Leary, who represents that neighbourhood on St. John's city council.

"People are so excited," she said. "The comments that [I] have received from people about the rejuvenation of that particular district has just been outstanding." 

Piatto, a popular downtown restaurant, opened up a new location in that same building. It sits next to a Leon's furniture store, which celebrated its official opening on Wednesday.

They're both across the street from a new Jumping Bean coffee shop and a relocated Newfoundland Canvas.

And even more are coming.

Heart of the city

Chris Collingwood, chairman of the Baine Johnston Corporation, says the Elizabeth Avenue area is turning into a real centre-city hub. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

The Baine Johnston corporation, which leases commercial and retail space around St. John's, snapped up the Canadian Tire building about a year ago.

Since then, it's moved its Leon's Furniture franchise to the space, and is preparing to bring more stores into the building.

Baine Johnston chairman Chris Collingwood says a hair salon, a dollar store, a physiotherapist and a nutritional supplement store are all going to be moving into the redone complex.

"There's energy in this location," he said.

"This is becoming a real new little mid-town shopping area. It's taking on a life of its own."

Piatto founder Brian Vallis says the customers have been flocking to his new restaurant since it opened last month.

It's a bit of a different clientele compared to his downtown restaurant, he says — the customer base is a little bit older, looking for a bit more convenience. But he's still seeing a lot of foot traffic from the dense residential area near the location.

Vallis says it is still early in the life of the location, but it has the makings of turning itself into a neighbourhood institution.

"The first night we opened, we could barely get people to seat themselves," he said.

"It was like going to a neighbourhood local."

When the going gets tough

Piatto founder Brian Vallis says his new Piatto location has seen steady traffic since it opened this summer. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

The commercial expansion is coming at an admittedly difficult time in the economy in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

Businesses have been leaving the downtown St. John's area, taxes are going up and provincial household income is expected to fall.

But Collingwood said now was the time to move into the new east end facility, and bring his Leon's franchise with him.

"We figured if you want to survive in this economy, better to invest in a good, better location," he said. "And this is what we did."

Vallis admits he worried about the move, but the location — particularly the permanent deck fixture and west-facing windows — sealed the deal.

O'Leary said the whole neighbourhood is glad some businesses are finding opportunity in the tough times.

"When the former Canadian Tire business folded in that location, people were really concerned about what was going to happen to that space," she says.

"But the whole area itself has just been rejuvenated, and I think it's absolutely wonderful." 


Garrett Barry


Garrett Barry is a CBC reporter, working primarily with The St. John's Morning Show.