Local business in Windsor is on the rebound with new shops popping up around the city

Despite the hit small businesses took due to pandemic restrictions, new ones are still popping up around the city.

At least 48 new businesses have opened in the city in the last year

Between Ottawa Street and Ford City, at least 19 new local businesses have opened this past year. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

When Tom and Jenni Dault decided to open their first brick and mortar business during a pandemic, they say many people thought they were out of their minds. 

"For us it just felt right," said Tom, co-owner of Walkerville Mercantile on Wyandotte Street East.

"The pandemic came but it didn't really matter to us — we were going to do it, hell or high water." 

Despite the hit small businesses took due to pandemic restrictions, new ones are still popping up around the city. Between Ottawa Street and Ford City, at least 19 new local businesses have opened — many of them filling and renovating vacated storefronts. Meanwhile in the downtown core, about 29 new businesses have popped up, while at least four have closed. 

Tenacity and grit aside, opening a business in normal times is hard enough, let alone during a global health crisis. 

"It was a lot of work," Jenni said, adding that they just recently moved to the city from Paris, Ont. 

The store, which sells men's heritage clothing, just opened its doors last week. 

Tom Dault fixes the shirt on a mannequin in his new store, Walkerville Mercantile, located on Wyandotte Street East. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

The couple says the pandemic created some added challenges to the process of opening a business, from finding a contractor to renovate the space to shortages in their paint colour. 

"We painted half of the shop and then [the store] ran out of that paint just because of COVID, they couldn't get any more in," said Tom, adding that at first it was also hard for them to get some product in. 

He says finding commercial property was another struggle. With not many being advertised online, the Daults said they had to go door-to-door in the area. 

Surge of new storefronts

Over on Ottawa Street, the 11 storefronts that closed since COVID-19 began have now been replaced by nine new ones, according to chair of Ottawa's Business Improvement Association Ettore Bonato. 

"It is amazing what kind of revival you are seeing on Ottawa Street, as well as around the city I've noticed too," says Bonato. 

That includes Ford City's Drouillard Road. But for the east-end neighbourhood, the revival is one that's been a long-time coming. 

Ford City BIA chair Shane Potvin says there's been 10 new businesses that have moved in over the last year. Now that pandemic restrictions have eased, he's seeing more people finally getting to enjoy the new spots. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

"During COVID we've seen probably our biggest growth than we've seen in many years, we had a lot of new really unique businesses move to the neighbourhood," said Shane Potvin, chair of Ford City Business Improvement Association.

This includes Bunch, Bad Girl Hair, Soda Pop Bros, The Vegan Gardiners and soon-to-be Chance Coffee. 

"I think we're going to naturally start seeing a boom ... it's like the end of the war right ... people are different, people shop different, people go out different. Obviously it was a surprise, but we saw this momentum building and I think it was just a matter of time," Potvin said. 

'It's more challenging' 

Downtown Windsor is also seeing some new faces and storefronts. One in particular is Diva's Delite, a restaurant that will serve Caribbean and Canadian cuisine. Owner Earle Baker just put up her sign, but is still renovating the inside of what was formerly Koko-Pellies Lounge & Grill. 

Baker says she was planning to open before the pandemic, but then decided to wait until things got better. She owns another restaurant in Toronto and wanted to bring a similar experience to Windsor. 

"It's been different," Baker says about opening this shop. "With the pandemic ... it's more challenging to get everything ready, to be prepared, to meet public health demands. 

Diva's Delite, located on Chatham Street West in downtown Windsor, is renovating the former Koko-Pellies spot. The new restaurant will serve up Caribbean and Canadian cuisine. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

Like the Daults, she says it was "extremely difficult" to get a contractor and cleaner to help her renovate the place. She added that materials for the shop were also hard to get, as they had either gone up in price or were out of stock. 

"My husband was like 'what are you doing? All restaurants are closing down. If the pandemic gets worse, you're the first ones that are going to get closed,'' she said. "I'm just being optimistic and hoping it's going to get better." 

She's planning to open the restaurant by the end of August. 

A seven minute drive away, The Collection by Mister Style on Ottawa Street just opened its doors — July 30 was its grand opening. 

The shop is an extension of Mister Style HQ, a company that stages homes for people. Based on the interest of the pieces they stage, the owners decided to create a retail space right next door. 

The Collection by Mister Style is one of the nine new businesses that opened on Ottawa Street. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

"We were actually planning to open a little bit ago, but because of COVID we kind of had to push things back so we were so excited to finally have this opportunity again," says manager Amelia Ryan. 

Though the shop has only just opened, Ryan says business is going well.