The transformation of downtown Oakville has been attracting new retailers to the area and has limited availability. Adrienne Gordon, the executive director of Oakville Downtown BIA, discusses changes to the downtown core, occupancy, and visitor traffic which has increased by 23 percent.
Construction began in 2019 and extended into the challenging period of Covid in 2020. Despite businesses facing closures and challenges, the BIA’s investment in redeveloping the infrastructure has revitalized the area. Today, Gordon says the necessary improvements have led to an increase in traffic, a surge in retailers, and community enjoyment of the new space.
“Once the construction was almost finished – Covid hit, so it was really a double whammy. I came on the talent to act as an executive director to the downtown BIA right in the heart of Covid. The roads were pretty much closed, the town was closed. It was a dire time when we first started, but what makes this story so amazing is it was such a difficult time when we started. We worked really hard completing the downtown, supporting existing and new businesses that were choosing downtown Oakville.”
New Look, Enhanced Feel
The key focus of the construction was enhancing the community and visitor experience. Gordon says one of the main projects was reconstructing the roads so they could widen the sidewalks to improve walking conditions. By adding a wider sidewalk, Gordon says it makes the downtown feel more welcoming and also encourages people to walk around more.
The BIA also made enhancements to the street by adding new trees, lighting fixtures, and other aesthetic improvements. To further improve the beauty of downtown, Gordon introduced a year-round flower program and art installations.
“The general landscape, like the buildings and the staff all stayed the same, but the roads were redone and the sidewalks were widened. That extra sidewalk was a big draw for people to get out and walk around, so it really changed the landscape of the roadwork and the streets’ look and feel – it just elevated the look of downtown.”
Retail and Business Growth
Since 2021, downtown Oakville has seen 60 new businesses enter and is attracting a mix of large, established, and unique businesses to the area. Shoppers can now expect to find a variety of businesses including design, clothing brands, restaurants, and beverage services.
“We have companies that swore they would never leave Toronto, and we have had probably four or five brands come from downtown Toronto, so that is interesting and has never happened before – we are becoming this hub for business. Retailers have really made a home in downtown Oakville.”
In terms of beverages and the restaurant business, Gordon says the downtown is growing in these categories and now has a diverse mix including East Asian, North American, Italian, and European food options.
“So we have a great selection now and I think there is always room for continued opportunities for retailers that offer different price points. We have a great amount of high end retailers, but it is also nice to have that variety in terms of slightly different price points for the folks coming down, the retail mix for us is definitely growing in the right direction. We always want people to think there is something going on downtown and that there is something for them downtown, and I think that is why people keep coming back.”
Visitor Traffic and Low Vacancy Rates
Visitor traffic has increased by 23 percent over the past year, with approximately seven million visits. Through collected data, the BIA can find out when people are coming, who is coming down, and how they are winning over competitors around them.
The vacancy rate, Gordon says, has been the lowest it has ever been. The current vacancy rate is at 6.21 percent compared to 9.77 percent from last year.
“It has never been this low. Typically we find that if a retailer has moved out, we rarely actually see a for lease sign now and they are rented before the tenant actually leaves – which has never happened. It has always been going through the process of putting up a lease sign, but right now the turnover is quick and there tends to always be someone behind waiting to come in.”
Gordon says the increase of traffic was noticed after Covid as people started to enjoy walking downtown instead of shopping within a mall and opened people’s eyes to supporting local businesses downtown. Gordon says data showed that people would now rather drive 30 minutes to come to Oakville on a weekend and they will likely spend the whole day downtown.
“It opens people’s experiences of being in downtown versus the mall and that stuck with people enough to say ‘you know what, I am just going to pop downtown and walk around, I am going to spend the day downtown,’ and that has shifted behaviour significantly and is the reason why it has been so successful.”
New Retailers in the area
- Bambino Fine Shoes
- Diba Custom Tailoring
- Hoseki Sushi
- Maverick’s Gourmet Donut Shop
- Montagio Custom Tailoring
- State & Liberty
- TBB by Enza
- The Latest Scoop
- Brenda Seymour Photographic Art
- Ferris Rafauli Design Studio
- II Bacio Spa Club
- Synergy Sports Health & Medicine
Visitors can find a variety of high-end retailers such as Boa Boutique, Andrews, Lululemon, and also specialty retailers such as Accents for Living.
Looking ahead, the BIA plans to maintain its focus on beautification, marketing, and community engagement.
The BIA has also created a marketing activation plan for the year to include a program every month downtown as Gordon says they want an activity to keep people engaged. The goal would be to always have something happening downtown, whether it is a one night event or a long-term event such as an art installation, Gordon says: “We have a real plan to deliver on our insight that we want people to always believe there is something happening downtown.”
“We have always established ourselves as a place where people want to go. It has grown into this experience that I think has the benefit of just feeling good about supporting locals. Together, we are creating a downtown that is not just beautiful, but a vibrant destination that welcomes all. We are very focused on building the brand of downtown and it is the only reason why it has been so successful.”