Churchill Square has had some hard luck over the past decade or so. On the west side of the Square, Dominion (then SaveEasy) closed its doors, leaving the space in retail purgatory, an “eyesore” or a “economic black hole,” depending on who you ask.
On the east side, roof damage and flooding caused an abrupt exodus for the complex’s apartment dwellers and business tenants.
Now, the flooded-out retail spaces have reopened (reports say it’s back to being fully rented) and word is a condo developer may be building a retail/condo hybrid in the vacant grocery store location.
Meanwhile, new faces and St. John’s stalwarts are moving in. That’s good news for business owners and for the neighbourhood.
“We’ve got a real family built here, I know I couldn’t be happier, and I think the whole crew is on that page,” says Evan Bursey, owner of Fort Amherst Pub. The pub had its own run of hard luck, including multiple floodings at its original location downtown before it landed in Churchill Square last year.
“We can see the Square revitalizing every day as businesses and tenants move back to the newly renovated retail and residential units, and we are so happy to be a part of it,” says Amanda Dawe, owner of the Natural Emporium, which opened in May of this year, selling an electric mix of products for mind and body.
“The Square has a beautiful vibe, being built around 1956, you can feel the optimism of the 1950s in the way it is designed, the stores surrounding a large parking area, appealed to the growing number of families with automobiles.”
Since they opened in 2010, downtown retailer Whink has moved into progressively bigger spaces, from their original spot on Duckworth, then onto Water, and now into Churchill Square.
“Myself and the Whink team are so excited about the new location and Churchill Square,” says Kim Paddon of Whink, which carries art, hosuewares, and jewelry, focusing on local handmade products as well as Canadian artists and designers. “The Square is a great shopping location … we are thrilled to be a part of it!”
Whink was quickly followed uptown by another downtown legend: Rocket Bakery and Fresh Foods are launching their second location in the Square. They’ve dubbed it “baby Rocket,” and it will feature all the bakery and deli goods they’ve built a loyal following on downtown.
The most recent buzz in the square was this month’s launch of Noodle Nami, on the ground floor of Terrace on the square. A sister to Sushi Nami downtown, Noodle Nami serves all things noodles, including favourites from Japan, China, Korea, and more, including giant bowls of ramen.
However, there are many sides of the Square. While new tenants are bringing new optimism, Square veterans like Big Ben’s have been making it work for decades, through the ebbs and flows.
“Churchill Square is not the thriving place it was when Ben’s first opened,” says Ashley Ellis of Big Ben’s Pub. “Numerous diversified businesses have opened in the Square and many have come and gone since 1972. Churchill Square is centrally located in St. John’s and is patronized by many people in the neighbourhood.”
Still, owners new and old alike are managing to find their footing, like baby and children’s clothing store Strawberry Tree, which has been in operation since 1984.
“We have been in business since 2002… the oldest tattoo body piercing shop in St.John’s,” says Maxine Seymour of Studio Maxx, who has been in the Square seven years. “I love it there… I would never leave the Square. It has been awesome for my business.”
Indian subcontinental Bangladeshi restaurant NJ’s Kitchen is celebrating their second anniversary in the Square on August 19th. “Our business [has] gone double since our first year, which is rare in this current economy,” says owner Jamil Hossain.
“All we need is some cultural shows and social activities on the big parking lot in the evening to attract more people. Churchill Square will be a big landmark if we would have more people know about this place.” In the future, Hossain hopes to see more resources dedicated to making the area into a better space, with art, better seating, and space for kids to play.
“We have been in talks with the city in creating a “Churchill Square Society” of business owners and people of the community to assist in unifying and directing a positive impact in the years to come,” says Bursey.
“It is a great time to be here, and we look forward to welcoming all the new life and working toward an even better community.”