Brantford Downtown: The place to be for Opportunity
Born, raised and schooled here, I have developed a special relationship with Brantford. I was excited when my boss asked me to go into the heart of Brantford, the downtown core, and ask some of the local business owners a couple questions. With so many changes, especially in the last decade, there is no doubt an array of opinions. Some positive and, yes, a couple negative too! Overall though, one thing stood out; Brantford downtown is a place of opportunity.
After brief discussions with three of the local business owners, I gained some insights about the past and future of this great city and I would like to share it with you. Bob Warmington, of Warmington’s Bistro, offered some of his opinions; Bob being the owner of the established and respected Bistro for 11 years now. Cobby’s owner, Trevor, also spent a quick few moments detailing his views on Brantford while juggling a handful of hungry customers. Lastly, I was off to Sophia’s Bakery to have a heartfelt discussion with owner Laure Duguid while her Husband “Mr, Downtown” dished out coffees and delicious treats for all. So what did I get the chance to talk about with these three local business owners?
What made you choose this spot? Why downtown Brantford?
There are many reasons a business might choose a particular location over another. Warmington’s Bistro, having been established for 11 years, started their business before the upswing began in the downtown district. Owner, Bob Warmington said that his business has “been through the downfalls of downtown and the rejuvenation of the downtown with the universities.” He chose this location simply because him and his wife, the cook Jolene, liked it. Good enough reason as any and we are happy they chose it!
Cobby’s and Sophia’s Bakery, both being more recently established, chose their locations based on timing and opportunity. Cobby’s located on the Market street walkway, seen this location as a “good opportunity to get in and get started.” With so much being built up around this location, he felt it was the perfect timing to start a fast-paced diner with a large variety of items to choose from. Now, three years into business, Trevor is excited to see what will happen next with the Laurier Brantford purchase of the Market Square mall.
Laura Duguid, owner of Sophia’s Bakery, also expressed similar reasoning for her corner location where King street meets Colborne. In her words, “downtown is on an upswing and can only get better. (We) want to be on the ground floor when it happens.” Of course, downtown has a variety of currently unused building looking for life and rejuvenation and they certainly had their pick. However, this corner location has family history and fond memories for Duguid and her husband. When they found out the Ford Plant was closing its doors everything started to fall into place. Hard work and much research went into the 18-month renovations and the result is outstanding.
What do you think has made you successful, not successful?
Since students predominantly populate the downtown core for two-thirds of the year, it is hard to ignore their presence when considering economic development and future city planning. However, where does that leave business for the other four months?
For Warmington’s Bistro, success has been two-fold. For one, lasting 11 years has allowed them to build a return client relationship, especially with professionals and workers looking for a filling and delicious homemade lunch. On the other hand, the universities bring business for seven to eight months of the years, but, he believes, they also take their business with them when they leave for summers and vacations. Luckily, the businesses remain and the workers need lunch.
Cobby’s decided to offer a wide variety of items to reach a wide variety of people, and it works! As one of the only places students and professors can run into on their 10-minute break and grab a wrap and some fries, it is conveniently located, competitively priced and downright delicious. Although summers can become tough on business, owner Trevor still has a positive outlook for the future of his business.
Laura Duguid and her husband certainly did their research before moving their bakery in and it seems to have paid off. Spending 2 years shadowing, 18 months renovating and taking the time to build a strong social media connection with clients, Sophia’s Bakery brings in business from all over Brantford and enjoys connecting with people from all over Southern Ontario. This allows them a little less concern when the summer months come around. Duguid adds that “students aren’t leaving, they’re staying” and they “bring (a) huge populous of intelligent” workers. By connecting with students through the school year, they create return clients for the summer months as well.
Where do you see the future of downtown? What does Brantford downtown need next?
There appears to be a consensus that the rebirth of the downtown core is far from over, and there were a couple suggestions these owners were more than happy to share. All agree that the students bring business and there are things these students would not only like, but could benefit from. All three felt there was a need for more diverse restaurants and clothing stores. There have been attempts to establish such places in the last decade and with proper research into what people want there is certainly room for growth here.
Two interesting suggestions came from Laura Duguid: a hotel and a cinema. A hotel would be able to house out-of-town guests that are coming for entertainment. With the Sanderson Center, Brantford Casino, and multiple talented local bands, people need a place to rest their head at the end of the night and an affordable hotel could provide such services. A cinema would also be great for economic development. As the universities continue to increase enrollment rates we now have enough of a client base to ask for such entertainment facilities. Students need a break too and a theatre would provide such downtime.
There are, of course, two big changes already in the works: the building of the new YMCA and Laurier’s new ownership of the Market Square mall. Although not everyone was happy to see the heritage buildings demolished, the business owners do feel that this brings new opportunity and excitement. Duguid pointed out that she seen how “people came to watch the demolition of Colborne” and believes that “3 times as many are going to be interested in the rebirth”
What do you think?
- Whether you are from Brantford, just visiting or looking to come by for a visit there appears to be a lot of opportunity and room for development. What do you think about the rejuvenation of the downtown core?
- Of course, here we have only represented a very small sample size of business owners with specks of my own opinion so, what do you think? Do you think these three local businesses have it right?
- What are your favorite local businesses?