Posts Tagged DARN!
from the Downtown Action Revitalization Network
January 27th, 2014
Within a month, the Ontario Ministry of Education will decide the fate of KCVI. We, the Downtown Action Revitalization Network (DARN!), are writing to add our voice to the growing opposition against the closure of this school. DARN! promotes and advocates a liveable, dynamic and inclusive downtown. We envision Kingston’s core as a place to live, work, shop and play, and believe that schools are essential to this vision.
The downtowns in almost all Canadian medium-sized cities are in trouble, including (perhaps) Kingston. With too many suburban malls and power centres, it is hard to keep a downtown main street going, as we see in Brantford, St. Catherine’s, Belleville and Hamilton. In 2004, the exceptions to this rule were Halifax, Victoria and Kingston, according to an article in the Journal of the American Planning Association. The Kingston BIA is widely admired for re-positioning the central business district to serve both residents and students in the winter and provide programming for tourists in the summer. The renovation of the Grand, the Market Square and the KRock Centre were all positive additions. However, Kingston’s downtown has taken some significant blows in the last couple of years, with the loss of the movie theatre, Indigo and many other locally owned businesses. Walking below Barrie Street on a Saturday is now too quiet for comfort.
The loss of KCVI would be another major blow and we are left to wonder at what point the balance might shift completely and leave a deserted downtown. Most directly, the loss would affect the downtown residents and employees whose children go to school at KCVI. If this city wants families to live downtown, there must be schools. But it would also affect the downtown businesses. Closing KCVI would remove 1000 students from the downtown streets, as well as the parents, teachers and staff that go with them. We believe the loss of downtown spending would be significant.
Most municipalities dream of having a high school on a downtown university campus. We have a full, vibrant and successful one. Let’s keep it.
The Downtown Action Revitalization Network (DARN!)
By Jamie Swift
“Just so you know,” offers Al Chater as he hands over another complementary turkey-bacon burger, “We do sell ‘em, too.”
The Pig and Olive’s burgers were moving fast. Free food generally attracts a crowd. And DARN’s most recent swarm reflected this simple fact of life. Things were humming.
The Wellington Street celebration brought well over a hundred people – active DARN supporters and casual passers-by – to the block between Queen and Barrack Streets where two new business sprouted up this past spring. A Liquid Nutrition juice bar franchise opened a few days after Alan and Danielle Chater’s Bath Road butcher shop took root downtown.
City centre carnivores have not had a non-supermarket outlet since the Block and Cleaver closed its Market Square doors a couple of years back. “Aussie Al,” as he’s sometimes known (they sell “outback steaks”), had worked at John’s Deli and the now-shuttered Hind Quarter (it’s now a pawn shop) before starting the Bath Road butcher shop with Danielle.
The couple met at the former A&P, where Al was moonlighting.
“She made the moves on me,” he grins, handing over another burger.
“Hardly,” replies Danielle with a knowing roll of the eyes as she works the cash while keeping an eye on her son. He’s in top gear because of the swarm of activity in the parents’ new store. The couple doubled their usual mid-week business during the swarm.
Things get even busier as local musician Roger James arrives, strumming his banjo. He’s followed by Virg Allegrini from Pasta Genova down the block. The Italian food store, an independent downtown anchor for twenty-five years now, has been cooking the Pig and Olive burgers. The tiny, in-store kitchen normally produces fresh pasta, sauces, foccacia and, on Fridays, those irresistible cheese sticks. Their foccacia sandwiches are among the best in town.
Mara Fiormanti, chief pasta maker, is doing a steady trade in mini-sandwiches that Pasta Genova has provided to support the DARN swarm. Someone has chalked a sign on the sidewalk in front of Mara’s table. “DARN good food.”
One of the dozens of children, their faces painted by DARN’s Rae Brackenbury down in front of the Anna Lane office, is busy filling in the Os in “good food.”
Mara says she’s worried about the number of empty downtown stores, an anxiety reflected by a customer who claims that there haven’t been this many since she came to town just before Pasta Genova opened in 1988. The popular spot will be celebrating their 25th birthday July 13, coinciding as usual with the buskers’ festival. There will be birthday cake and grilled sausages, made in-store.
Mara and Virg’s parents left Genoa (hence the store’s name) in 1951, part of a group that arrived in Kingston together. Unlike most of the postwar wave of Italian country folk, Mara and Virg’s father was a skilled tradesman.
“I’ve known Robbie for years,” smiles Mara when I mention that my longtime barber Robert Castelvetri family also hales from the old Italian port city. “His dad and my dad both got jobs at the locomotive works.” (the chatty Rob Castelvetri’s Johnson Street salon is right around the corner from the Block D apartment complex where the waterfront Canadian Locomotive Company employed his father.)
DARN’s Wellington Street “block party” swarm was the first to support more than one independent business.
The idea is twofold. To raise awareness that Kingston’s downtown, though successful compared to so many other city centres, is threatened by store closures and a retail uniformity featuring a preponderance of bars, cafes, restaurants and corporate chains. And to let people know about all those small, independent businesses that keep going. Both the Pig and Olive and Pasta Genova are supporters of the local food movement.
DARN’s Wellington Street block party was also supported by Hillary’s dry cleaning where people got a chance at free cleaning. The energetic reflexologist Sue Livesay of Wellington Acupuncture and Massage offered free foot massages. And the Anna Lane condominium was a key swarm backer. Its sales office at Wellington and Barrack is a block down from the construction site where their building is fast rising from the desolate hole that long graced the corner of Queen and Bagot. “Downtown – no finer place” boasts the Options for Homes developer.
Finally, a new downtown apartment building that doesn’t wall off the lakefront. (for info on the June 23 Shoreline Shuffle, see wateraccessgroup.weebly.com). Apparently Anna Lane units are selling steadily.
Liquid Nutrition’s marketing hype has it that if you enter the juice bar you’ll get “a sudden rush of health and happiness.”
Perhaps slightly overblown. But the sentiment is what has prompted the whole DARN initiative. Downtown living certainly is good for “body and soul.” Maybe the ghost of tenorman Coleman Hawkins will grace DARN’s next swarm and treat us to the old jazz standard.
Limited Screening: In Which a Chain Movie Outfit Abandons Downtown Kingston but a Local Gem Still Shines.
By Jamie Swift
A year ago last February a couple of dozen people gathered on a chilly afternoon in front of the Empire cinema on downtown Princess Street. It wasn’t long before the doors of the venerable movie house with the ornate façade were plastered with Valentine’s Day stickers.
Most had been fashioned by the children who made up half the crowd. They had taped their pink paper hearts all over the doors through which generations of Kingston movie-goers had passed.
Those days were numbered.
The Nova Scotia based Empire cinema chain had decided to follow the familiar corporate path of shuttering downtown movie houses, decamping to suburban big box land. The protestors from DARN! thought this was a bad idea and hoped to change the company’s mind by sending messages of love to Empire’s Stellarton headquarters.
“We love the movies downtown!” “Please keep our movie theatre open!”
After the television cameras and news photographers had left, the Downtown Action Revitalization Network people carefully removed their decorations. A volunteer packed them up together with a letter explaining the community concern over the planned closure.
The company, part of the Sobey’s grocery and real estate colossus, never replied. Its “corporate social responsibility” claim states that “We believe a commitment to community is fundamental to sustaining our success and we encourage our employees, franchisees and affiliates to participate in enhancing the well-being of the communities in which they live and work. “
In spite of it all, Empire closed the cinema. And, to add insult to injury, insisted on a “no-compete” clause in any sales agreement with potential buyers. Anyone buying the building, purpose built as a movie theatre, has to agree not to use it to …. show movies.
“People love to take in a movie and have dinner at one of our great local restaurants,” said DARN!’s Marney McDiarmid at the time. “Closing this magnet attraction would be bad for downtown and all the businesses that we support there.”
The old cinema has been closed for months now. A new Empire megaplex has sprung up just west of the Division Street ketchup strip – just behind the No Frills store that controversially relocated out there when another supermarket behemoth, Loblaws, closed its Bagot Street store outlet a few years back. Should they sell their near north end property, the buyer won’t be allowed to put a food store there.
All is not lost. Kingston has a solid track record of supporting independent, downtown cinemas.
In 1988, the non-profit Princess Court Cinema opened its upstairs venue on Princess just below Division. The single screen, co-operatively run movie house enjoyed a good run, screening a diverse selection of films and often mixing several titles in a single week.
When the Princess Court closed some ten years later, it wasn’t long before Terry Atherton opened The Screening Room in a two screen space further down Princess. It proved fairly successful, but lots of work. After several years Ms. Atherton sold the Screening Room to Wendy Huot, its current owner.
The energetic Ms. Huot began to expand the Screening Room’s programming, adding a Cinematica Classics series. It features everything from musical classics like Singing in the Rain to the Coen brothers early, unforgettable classic The Big Lebowski. The Screening Room now has a sophisticated website and a membership-based Film Society. It also works with community groups to organize special documentary screenings featuring speakers on everything from the Jews of Nigeria (Re-Emerging) to recent developments in El Salvador. Or the efforts of Donald Trump to despoil the Scottish coast with golf courses.
Having a downtown cinema adds immeasurably to Kingston’s cultural mix. The Screening Room shows both first-run, quality movies that get short shrift from the megaplex outfits as well as art-house, foreign, alternative, and classic cinema. It also provides a vital home to our locally-based film festivals, ReelOut and the Kingston Canadian Film Festival.
Of course, some will say that the movie theatre is a thing of the past, soon to go the way of the broad-faced poteroo. That we’ll be streaming and downloading from here on in. That video stores are in decline. That we have to be realistic, recognizing that from here on in we’ll be sitting by ourselves, staring into postcard sized screens.
But there’s something wrong with this picture. What can replace the wonderful experience of watching a movie on a big screen with fine sound, in the company of others? And being able to stroll or cycle to the movies instead of driving out to a soulless expanse of asphalt only to be bombarded by a numbing barrage of commercial propaganda.
Think about it. At the megaplex you pay to be deluged by ads. The Screening Room offers freedom from commercial speech. No ads.
Kingston’s funky independent cinema has one thing in common with the canned corporate movie experience. It smells of popcorn. And yet it exists, even thrives, a step or two outside the commercial mainstream. Instead of minimum wage hirelings, it is staffed by movie buffs who love the movies and get to see them free in exchange for their volunteer labour.
One final note: Wendy recently managed to procure a complete set of comfy seats from the downtown Empire after it closed.
Please join the folks from DARN! in one of our trademark swarms, this one in support of The Screening Room, Saturday, April 6. One marvelously creative wrinkle: Harkening back to the days before the talkies, local musician Spencer Evans will accompany Buster Keaton short Cops on piano before the main feature, The Princess Bride.
Kingston writer and realtor Mark Sinnett has a wonderful little article on his MachinesForLivingIn blog. It deals with the new Empire megaplex and the local commercial-entertainment nexus.