Olde Walkerville is rebounding from a recession and enjoying a renaissance

Olde Walkerville is now known for it's decorative storefronts and desirable heritage home,but that wasn't always the case.

'If your heart is in the right place it seems like you're rewarded'

Take a look at how Olde Walkerville has transitioned over the years. 1:09

Mike Brkovich doesn't have a square foot of office space to rent out in any of the buildings he owns in the Olde Walkerville area.

Not bad, considering the Windsor native has watched the neighbourhood bounce back from vacant shops in the 90s and a recession that saw some stores flee the area.

"There was boarded up storefronts, boarded up buildings," said Brkovich, standing inside of the Walkerville Brewery, recalling what the area looked like when he took over the business. 

Brkovich owned the business when it went bankrupt in 2007. A brewery was a bold investment for someone who owns eight registered heritage properties in Windsor.

"I thought at that point in my life 'I really wanted to see the brewery succeed,'" he said.

Business owner Mike Brkovich said the key to Olde Walkerville's success is business owners looking for something more than a financial return on their investment (Chris Ensing/CBC)

The same year the brewery buckled, a handful of other businesses in Olde Walkerville were in transition: high-end furniture store ICON, the fine are studio Scratching the Surface and a framing shop called Posteroptics.

Community Renaissance 

Now, the neighbourhood is enjoying a renaissance, in part, because of people like Brkovich, who has received multiple Heritage Awards from the City of Windsor for his work in the neighbourhood. 

"I think what's the key to the Walkerville success story are private individuals in the community that have come forward and sacrificed," said Brkovich, who bought his first Olde Walkerville building in 1994.

This is what some storefronts Olde Walkerville looked like in the 1980s. (CBC)

He added it's people who make decisions with a deeper emotional attachment to the area that have helped turn Old Walkerville into what it is today. 

"It's never a return on investment for them. They get really emotional with their purchases," he said. "Luckily for me it seems if your heart is in the right place it seems like you're rewarded." 

Waiting on Walkerville

While Brkovich invested in Old Walkerville early, those eager to set up shop in the community these days often can't find an available storefront in the roughly eight-block area. 

"As soon as you hear that something's coming up it's usually gone," said Joan Charette, a real-estate agent and coordinator with the Walkerville BIA.

Realtor Joan Charette said Olde Walkerville's shift is because of the active business owners in the neighbourhood. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Right now, she's working with several people looking for duplexes and a client hoping to open a restaurant in Walkerville, but there's nowhere for him to move in.

"It's not a bad problem to have, there just really isn't any space."

Like Brkovich, Charette has watched the changing tides in Olde Walkerville for more than a decade after starting out in the area as a business owner herself. 

She recalled when the BIA worked to get extra police presence in the neighbourhood.

"I remember them giving us notebooks so that we could actually write down everything that was happening, if we could get license plates or whatever, to report it," said Charette. 

High success rates

This week, Charette kept track of a different number — she looked at how long current businesses have been in the neighbourhood. 

"We have about 96 businesses in the area and I counted about 71 that have been here over five years," said Charette.

"Five years is what the Retail Council of Canada says is the benchmark. If you can last five years you're doing pretty good and you're probably going to make it."

Both Charette and Brkovich said that Olde Walkeville is so popular people are on wait lists trying to buy or rent property. (CBC News)

The realtor cited the heritage designation on buildings in the area as a major key to the neighbourhood's success.

"I think that's pretty good, I think we're doing okay with that."

About the Author

Chris Ensing

CBC News

Chris Ensing is a Video Journalist for CBC Windsor.