Windsor is a city that takes pride in its history, but lately seems to be lacking in taking care of its image. With businesses closing and remaining vacant, the downtown core has been plagued with abandoned buildings.
You wouldn’t, however, expect a business that is still running to be simultaneously falling apart.
It’s the great block of blue on the corner of Ouellette and Chatham Street, stretching down to TD Bank. It is Shanfields – Meyers, a local landmark that’s been liquidating since 2011.
“I know people are always saying Shanfields is such an eyesore but the building is 120 years old. We do repairs here and there but we haven’t renovated, it’s too costly,” said Joan Shanfields who took over the business a few years ago after her father’s death and decided to hold a sale in hopes of eventually closing. The largest crystal and china shop in the country, Shanfields still owns roughly a million dollars in stock and continues to have regular online and in-store customers.
She thinks it’s a catch-22 between giving money to new businesses and helping older ones. She believes the downtown BIA should invest less in nightlife and more in retail and shopping.
“There’s a lack of interest in city hall in terms of making Windsor more tourist friendly, especially to our American neighbours,” said Shanfields. “I think Walkerville is an excellent example of independently owned shops.”
She wants to see the city approve additional grants to improve the façade of abandoned or older buildings instead of investing all their money into what she calls, ‘neon culture.’
Ward 3 councilor Rino Bortolin is very passionate about change in the downtown areas.
“I think the whole idea of blight buildings in the core is something we will be dealing with for years and years to come, and it will be a challenge that will make us change the image of the downtown,” said Bortolin. “It is a very important issue.”
The Blind Dog music venue on Ouellette has been empty since 2011 without any prospects of new ownership and stands as another example of blight plaguing the main streets.
Some might say the president of the Downtown Blight Club is the Paul Martin building. Bortolin said it heavily depends on the federal election (which we now know to be a majority Liberal government), but conversations have already started with the University.
“Once we get it we want to pass it on to the university and potentially bring law school but the deal still needs to be finalized,” said Bortolin.
He says Jeff Watson has agreed to the deal, now it’s a matter of bringing it through the proper channels and getting it finalized. According to Bortolin, the city would ideally take ownership of the building by 2017.
He understands that owning a business isn’t easy, but urges people to take more care of their property.
“Ownership in any regard comes with responsibility, whether it’s a home or a commercial building, you have to be able to afford taking care of that building because of the negative effects it has on the neighbourhood,” he said.
Shanfields had a going-out-of-business license in the past, but because of the demand, the business has remained open and will continue to advocate for more downtown retail. The owner believes the city should cater less to ‘neon culture’ and more to retail-type business.
“There’s a brochure about all the places to visit in Windsor,” she said. “Do you know how many retail shops are listed? Five,” she said. “There’s something wrong with that.”
Shanfields believes that her store is very unique in North America.
“Nobody opens stores like this, most people shop online but there’s a historical aspect within our collection.”
She said when her parents passed; the plan was indeed to liquidate the store, leading to its permanent closure.
“We ended up staying open because people begged us to. My employees have been here for 30 years and they are experts in the field,” said Shanfields, who wrapped up her career as a photographer in Toronto six years ago and moved back to Windsor to run the business. Her parents purchased the entire block nearly eight decades ago, when other places occupied the spaces. Philip’s meat market, Kanner the Hatter, Ever Wayne’s gift shop and Heintzman Pianos all became the big blue business Windsorites known to be Shanfields today.
“The corner used to be the Canadian Pacific where people bought train tickets. The Via train used to leave from Riverside drive,” said Shanfields.
She believes that starting a business is not as easy as it may seem. “You won’t make any money for six to ten years, you just have to accept that,” she said. “My father [Jack] invested a lot in Windsor; he was on a lot of boards and a huge advocate for the city. He absolutely loved downtown.”
She thinks Windsor’s elected officials aren’t doing enough to attract people to Windsor, and claims they haven’t stepped foot in the her store once.
“I think Mayor Drew Dilkens needs to learn how to advertise this city. People come from all over; Michigan, Indiana, Illinois to see my store.” She said that she pays one of the biggest amounts of property tax in the city. Since the University of Windsor has been working on expanding into the downtown region, she hopes more students will be shopping locally.
“City of Windsor students get a discount at local stores,” she said.
Not all hope is lost for downtown however.
The recently abandoned Loop Complex building has been bought by a Toronto businessman, and he is apparently very interested in transforming the space. Windsorites on social media welcome positive change in the city, but the question of restoring current landmarks in the downtown area still remains a frustration to most residents.