Up with downtown

Mike Fleury is sad to see Sam’s go.

Soooooo, what’s the deal with Barrington these days?

The big news came this past week when venerable music dealer Sam the Record Man unexpectedly closed its doors on Tuesday (see “Shop Talk” for more info). Sam’s was famous for promoting and selling local recordings—as news of Sam’s demise spread across the city, musicians everywhere could be heard sobbing and smashing their guitars in disappointment.

The Sam’s closure comes just weeks after another major Barrington announcement—Dooly’s pool hall and Pro Shop will also move off the street in the coming months. Dooly’s rents space in the Roy Building. So far, the landlord has made no announcements about what might move in to take Dooly’s place, or if any other Roy Building retailers might be moving out.

So, two big retail gaps are suddenly open on Barrington, and in quick succession. That’s not necessarily a good thing. Vacant downtown buildings are bad news, especially prominent ground-level locations like Dooly’s and Sam’s—nobody likes strolling through a dead downtown.

So, is our beloved Barrington screwed? Should we officially start to panic?

“No, I don’t think so,” says Paul MacKinnon, executive director of the Downtown Halifax Business Commission. “Even in the healthiest most vibrant downtowns, places go out of business. Go to downtown Vancouver, and you’ll see closed signs—but not for long. The real sign of a healthy downtown is how something remains vacant.”

To that end, MacKinnon doesn’t expect either space to remain empty. Despite competition from business parks and big box shopping outside of the downtown core, MacKinnon says that Barrington still receives plenty of interest.

“Over the last few years especially, it’s been kind of a myth that there are vacancies along Barrington and downtown—there are actually very few of them. In fact, there’s been a sense of frustration for business that do want to get in, but who can’t find any space.”

MacKinnon is trying to stay positive about the Sam’s closure—“it’s not a total surprise,” he admits, “but it is unfortunate.” Although MacKinnon laments the loss of Sam’s, he sees the empty space as a rare opportunity for some lucky retailer.

“Any space that large on a downtown street, it’s hard to find,” he says. “Take someone like, say, a Banana Republic. They’re in many downtowns; they have a preference for historic buildings; that would certainly be a great space for someone like that.”

MacKinnon also clarifies the situation at the Roy Building, which he is also confident will be resolved, and remain retail.

“The owner of the Roy Building is also the owner of Attica and Peepshow. We’re fairly confident that he understands the need of the street,” says MacKinnon. “It may take a bit longer because they’re doing some things in that building, but that has to do with construction. The interest from retailers is certainly there.”

So apparently, everything is still relatively cool on Barrington. We’ll put the panic attack on hold—but we’ll still have a moment of silence for Sam’s.

Down with downtown? Email: mikef@thecoast

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