Downtown Essex evolves from 'sad' place, to 'revitalizing' hub

Four days after hitting the market, a storefront property in downtown Essex quickly sold. That's just one sign many in the community say points to a revitalization of the core.

7 businesses have opened or moved to Essex Centre and 2 have closed since January

Economic Development Officer, Nelson Silveira, said Essex Centre is "flourishing." (Jason Viau/CBC)

Four days after hitting the market, a storefront property in downtown Essex quickly sold. That's just one sign many in the community say points to a revitalization of the core. 

Eight years ago, Mary-Anne Bjorkman described Essex Centre as being "sad" and full of vacancies. 

Today, that's a very different story. 

Mary-Anne Bjorkman is closing one of her two stores in downtown Essex as she prepares for retirement. (Jason Viau/CBC)

"It's vibrant. It's coming along nicely," Bjorkman said. "The foot traffic we've seen increase."

Golden Girls Fashions is closing on September 29 in downtown Essex. (Jason Viau/CBC)

As a way to prepare for retirement, Bjorkman Is selling one of two of her downtown women's boutiques — Golden Girls Fashions. It closes September 29. 

At the same time, there's a lot of development going on. Schinkels' Meat Market is expanding down the street, into an old party store that's been sitting empty for a while. 

Schinkels' Meat Market is expanding and moving into an old, vacant party store in Essex Centre. (Jason Viau/CBC)

And a mystery tenant is moving into the old Grand Central Tavern, that's also been vacant for some time. It's expected to open in December.

The old Grand Central Tavern has been leased and a new business is opening there in December. (Jason Viau/CBC)

All of this growth is being linked to the town's Community Improvement Plan. 

"It really improves the overall look of the downtown and it really contributes to the main street revitalization," said Economic Development Officer Nelson Silveira.

The town offers up to $12,000 for businesses to do facade improvements and those shops must match that money dollar for dollar. There are also grants to help cover the cost of patio expansions, accessible entrances, landscaping and signage. 

The Town of Essex offers grants to help businesses improve the facade of buildings. (Jason Viau/CBC)

The Essex Business Improvement Association said seven businesses have opened or moved to Essex Centre and two have closed since January.

"Working toward a vibrant downtown that's sustainable with businesses that are going to stay here for a long time —that's really what's important to us," said Silveira.

About the Author

Jason Viau

Jason Viau is a video journalist, TV host and radio newsreader at CBC Windsor. He was born in North Bay, but has lived in Windsor for most of his life. Since graduating from St. Clair College, he's worked in print, TV and radio. Email him at jason.viau@cbc.ca