life and times
hiram who
birth of the auto
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Walkerville's Business Renaissance

Time makes the high building costs of one generation the bargains of a following generation. Time makes certain structures obsolete for some enterprises, and they become available to others.Time can make the space efficiencies of one generation the space luxuries of another generation. One century's building commonplace is another century's useful aberration.ö

Old buildings were a necessary ingredient of city diversity back in the 1920s and the 1890s. Old buildings will still be a necessity when today├s new buildings are the old ones.

This has been, still is, and will be, true no matter how erratic or how steady construction costs themselves are, because a depreciated building requires less income than one which has not yet paid off its capital costs. Steadily rising construction costs simply accentuate the need for old buildings. From: The Death and Life of Great American Cities, by Jane Jacobs.

In the Beginning

Hiram Walker started it all with his distillery, Canadian Club whisky, and a grand vision of what a community could be. He built this 19th century model town called Walkerville, unabashedly described at the turn of the century as ťa place of rapid manufacturing, mercantile and residential development, and coupled with a coherent conception of its future possibilitiesśtruly approaches the stimulating standard of a modern town.ö

Walker's whisky business proved so profitable he was able to provide capital and an infrastructure for the growth of innumerable enterprises.

At one time, there were so many factory chimneys in Walkerville, especially along Walker Road, it earned the title of ťthe Birmingham of Canada,ö named after England's industrial heartland.

Walkerville was the Canadian birthplace of a struggling automotive industry, including the Ford Motor Company, General Motors and Chrysler Corporation, and others that remain in our collective consciousness: Studebaker, Packard, Champion and Seagraves. In fact, at one time, Walkerville and Windsor were home to more automotive related businesses than any city in Canada.

Given that this area has spawned so much business success, it should come as no surprise that the district is currently experiencing a small business revival. A general decline in prosperity began during the last recession, coupled with three major banks pulling out of the area, leaving big empty buildings.

Lately, something exciting has been happening; buildings are being renovated, entrepreneurs are setting up shop and a can-do attitude is once again pervading the district. Bordering one of the most desirable residential neighbourhoods in the city, Walkerville is proud to announce that it is open for business!

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The Pioneer

Mike Brkovich realized early on what many have since discovered: Walkerville has incredible potential as a commercial district. When the Old Post Office on Devonshire was put up for sale, he didn’t take much time to make a decision.

"I had a gut feeling that it would make a great commercial space, but at that time (1993), there wasn’t much commercial activity in this area. It was a gamble, but I also bought it for personal reasons— I loved that building!"

Despite extensive renovations, the Old Post Office retains all its charm and looks much like it did when built in 1914.

Since then Brkovich has purchased four other buildings in Walkerville, including the Imperial Building (renovated to the tune of over $1,000,000); the Walkerville Brewing Company building; and two Hiram Walker warehouses across the street from the brewery.

Brkovich says renting commercial space in Walkerville turned out to be surprisingly easy. "I don’t have any space available— all my units are 100% rented!"

The tall Hiram Walker warehouses on Argyle present a new challenge for the energetic Brkovich. "We are looking at a number of options for these warehouses— perhaps we’ll put lofts in them, but at a very low density. I feel there is also a commercial potential for them, but haven’t made a final decision yet."

Crown Real Estate moved into the Post Office building on Devonshire in October to gain a presence in the Windsor area. According to broker and owner Jo-Anne Mancini, Walkerville was a great choice. "Walkerville appeals to everybody— the first-time buyer, young professionals, older residents— there’s so much potential for Walkerville."

Crown moved into a wide open space in the Old Post Office building, allowing Mancini to design the space according to her specifications. "We plan to stay here for a while," says Mancini.

She’s witnessed much interest in real estate in the area, and plans to capitalize on the fact the Crown is the only real estate company physically located in Walkerville. "A lot of outsiders are considering a move to Walkerville."


606 Devonshire Road Professional Building

This remodelling project was an enterprise born out of a love for Walkerville — one that gave a new life to the Royal Bank building at the corner of Devonshire and Wyandotte.

When it was still a bank, designer builder Stephen Marshall thought it would be a perfect location for his business. When it came up for sale six years ago, he and lawyer Jay Armeland founded a firm to buy and manage the building, which now houses nine tenants — lawyers, accountants, an investment consultant, and Marshall’s firm, Neo Arch Ltd. It was the ideal challenge for Marshall: to design and rebuild a bank space in such a historic building into a modern business interior.

"I just love Walkerville, the scale of the buildings, the quality of the streetscapes... " says Marshall, who enjoys the fact that he can walk to work. Adds Armeland: "The clients seem to like it. Walkerville is very central, the downtown is close, and parking’s not an issue."

Marshall estimated that he’s been personally involved in 20 to 25 projects in Walkerville, including the Imperial Building, the Walkerville Post Office, and the Walkerville town hall. It was Marshall who orchestrated the move of the building from its Riverside location to its present site on Devonshire Road (location of the Galerie d’Art).


1706-1748 Wyandotte

"Now that different businesses are coming in (to Walkerville), it’s getting better," says Bakhos Saad, owner of the old Nessel’s Department Store Building at 1706-1748 Wyandotte. Saad purchased the building in 1988, then witnessed the exodus of three banks and a major pharmacy from Walkerville. He certainly enjoys the current Walkerville business climate, and figures he has a good mix of tenants for his four second-floor apartments, and for the retail space which features the Black Opal, The Wood Doctor, his own Lebanese Meat Market, and a new tenant, (possibly a yoga instructor), who will take over a newly-converted storage area.

The Wood Doctor at 1748 Wyandotte St. E. is not a newcomer to Walkerville, but the store that specializes in quality solid wood furniture has a new — or rather an old — look. "We’ve gone right back to the original," says Ty Coon, who owns the business with wife Valerie Coon. Both grew up in Walkerville, and Ty Coon remembers well his shopping excursions with his mother to the very building that holds his business now, only then it was Nessel’s Department Store. The original tin ceiling and brick walls are now back, along with the large passageways between what were the different sections of the store.

"Each unit had different clothing in it," recalls Ty. Now the units carry interesting lines of furniture, from Mexican rustic and Frontier Furniture (made from recycled teak farm equipment) to colonial and traditional styles.

The Wood Doctor is bringing an expanding customer base to Walkerville, including a significant number of American buyers. Valerie is looking forward to the Christmas season, when customers will be able to browse through the Wood Doctor’s collection of unique gifts from 40 different companies from around the world, and do some shopping at the other area gift shops. "We’re glad to see everyone coming in," says Valerie.


Plato’s Blend

Since moving to Walkerville three years ago, the owners of The Walkerville Times felt that this community has been in dire need of a proper coffee bar/bakery.

Dino and Ann Marie Da-Re feel the same way, and will soon launch Plato’s Blend in the space recently occupied by Icon for The Home on Wyandotte.

Why Walkerville? "It’s charming, historical and has sense of permanence to it— unlike many of the plazas and strip malls we looked at," says Anne-Marie Da-Re, a partner in this venture.

Plato’s Blend has been germinating as a concept for 15 years. The pair, along with partner Frank Incitti, plan to also offer fresh sandwiches, salads, soups, pastries, muffins and baked breads— all made in-house.

Plato’s Blend will also be the first Windsor coffee house to wear the "Fair Trade" label. This symbol guarantees that a percentage of all monies from coffee sales is returned to the growers at the grassroots level, many of whom live in impoverished nations such as Yemen, Brazil and Columbia.

"We wanted to be commercially successful, but felt that we had to make a contribution at the societal level as well," says Anne-Marie.

The furniture store has been morphed into a cafe, with new flooring, walls, bathrooms, kitchen and preparation area, serving counters and seating for thirty.

Look for the opening of Plato’s Blend at the end of June.


The Tangled Garden is the latest in the growing number of properties owned by Chris Hanson. He purchased the building that housed Kay’s Flair at 1520 Wyandotte St. E. last year after a search for a new renovation project.

"I think that the Walkerville area is really growing," says Hanson. "It’s really going to take off." He placed a For Lease sign in the window of the store area and started the clean up.

"I tore out 12 bins of debris." The sign caught the attention of Joseph LaPointe and John Mailloux, owners of the Tangled Garden, which features "contemporary as well as classic things for the home."

They moved to Walkerville from their previous store location on Ottawa Street last September. Although they find there is not as much walk-in traffic as they enjoyed on Ottawa Street, the people who do stop in are "better buyers," said LaPointe.

He and Mailloux have already torn down a wall to expand their retail space to the back of the store, and are planning to open up a courtyard area in the back soon.


The Walkerville Professional Building

Locally known as the O’Neill Bernhardt Building at 1645 Wyandotte St. E., this is one of the area’s more recent grand-scale renovation projects. Dan Soleski, one of the building’s five owners, had no hesitation investing in the area.

"Walkerville has a unique flavour in the city, a really good urban fabric, and such a good mix of business and residential — a fine example of good urban planning."

The renovation was completed in late May, and already the new tenants are moved in, one on each of the building’s three floors.

Icon for the Home is on the main floor, while Mindbox, a marketing company, and Archon Architect Inc., where Soleski is an intern architect, are on the second and third.

Icon owner Michael Richardson chose Walkerville for his "urban lifestyle home store" to become part of this resurgent community, as opposed to the much less appealing environment of a plaza or strip mall.


The SOHO Building

When Morgan Precision Tool moved out of its long-standing location at the corner of Chilver and Wyandotte, it appeared as though another large building in Walkerville would go wanting for an owner.

Darryl English and Paul Leite, who owned SOHO Gourmet Foods across the street, saw an opportunity. They purchased the run-down building, and a major renovation has ensued. The Morgan offices have been gutted and much of the charm has been restored, including refinished hardwood floors, the removal of walls and ceiling tiles to reveal 13-foot ceilings.

What were once cramped offices is now an open breezy space filled with Windsor’s most extensive line of specialty gourmet foods, as well as distinctive gifts and home accessories. Many of their products, such as the Chai Tea, Booby Flay Sauces and Ming Tsai products can only be purchased at SOHO in this market.

The two entrepreneurs have also renovated three of the four apartments above their shop, including a spectacular 1,500-square-foot loft that would fit on the cover a designer magazine.

Why Walkerville? According to English: "Walkerville has an eclectic mix of food, shopping, and galleries — it’s really SOHO north! (SOHO New York City’s bohemian neighbourhood)." SOHO remains a passion for the pair, as they also have full-time jobs as a real estate agent and as a human resource manager.


Kush Resto-Bar

While scouting out locations for his latest venture, former Chanoso’s and Fillmore East founder Paul Chanko acted on a tip from the Walkerville Times managing editor about the new SOHO Building. Some readers may remember this location as the site of The Lustre Cafe, one of Walkerville’s most elegant restaurants that operated in the 1930s and 1940s.

Chanko immediately fell in love with Walkerville and the Soho Building site, and has begun extensive renovations to build KUSH, Windsor’s first "Resto-Bar."

Simply put, Chanko is bringing a European social concept to Walkerville: "We will cater to an audience that wants to sip small glasses of wine and enjoy plates of appetizers — including raw oysters, Tapas (Spanish treats), antipastos, cheese plates, spreads including tapanades and pestos — and much more."

Chanka has leased the two large east end units, and is in the midst transforming the space. Old carpeting has been removed to reveal oak hardwood flooring, brick walls have been exposed, and a long wooden bar will soon be constructed. Seating areas in the two rooms will accommodate up to 75 clients.

Chanko says Walkerville is the ideal location for his new venture. "Unlike downtown, this area is unsaturated. I guess I just got sick and tired of all the kiddies running around. Kush will be appealing to an older more mature crowd that appreciates good food."

Look for Kush to open sometime in September.


Bank of Montreal

One of Walkerville’s most distinctive landmarks, the alabaster Bank of Montreal on the corner of Chilver and Wyandotte, has been finally been sold. Vacant for the past several years, the new owners, Rob Sarra and Dave Ruxton, who also own The Complex Building in Olde Walkerville (world headquarters of The Walkerville Times!), say the bank will be converted into a Spa/Hair Salon called T’dye For.

Proprietor Jeff Wood plans to send about $30,000 to renovate and build his spa, while the rundown yet potentially magnificent upper manager’s suite will be restored to its original splendour.


There are a million tales in the city— and we have presented a few here. Others have also played a part in this resurgence; you may have read about them in past editions or will in the near future.

The Kildare House brought an authentic Celtic pub to the district, and has been an overwhelming success. Kevin and Leslie Donald of Posteroptics were one of the earliest of the "new entrepreneurs" to appreciate Walkerville’s charms and commercial potential; their framing gallery has been meticulously restored.

The old Town Hall was saved from the wrecker’s ball, has been completely renovated and is now Galerie D’Art. Andy Jun and Maurizio Tiberia renovated the old Golden Gate Restaurant and launched Digital Design.

The Children’s Aid Society has taken a two year lease on the old Deloitte Touche building while a new complex is built. Phil Laforest remodelled the old TD Bank for his Walkerville Chapel at the corner of Wyandotte and Lincoln. And an old clothing factory on Kildare and Assumption has just been sold— we await developments there.

The Walkerville renaissance has only just begun!

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