Successful Almonte defies retail trends in small-town Ontario

Heritage

Press release submitted to the Millstone.

July 24, 2015 Almonte, ON: Many small Ontario communities would be envious of the successful retail businesses in the picturesque town of Almonte, about 20 minutes west of Ottawa.

One of the entrepreneurs behind the success of Almonte’s downtown is Gordon R. Pike. Mr. Pike who previously owned a Canadian Tire store in Ottawa and lived near Almonte was looking for new opportunities when he bought an aging grocery store on downtown Almonte’s Mill Street in 1976.

A change of grocery store brands and a move to the new quarters, meant the downtown building needed a serious overhaul. Throughout the previous one hundred years, the building had housed a general store, cold storage facility, a butcher shop, hardware and department stores.

Mr. Pike seized the opportunity and invested $1M into an extensive renovation that transformed the building into Heritage Court, a 16,000 square foot retail complex which today houses several vibrant businesses including the popular Mill Street Crepe Company, a restaurant that Mr. Pike owns and operates. Gilligalou Bird Inc. (an oasis for birders), Acanthus Florals and Botanicals, Crush Marketplace, Tony Mihok Studio Gallery and Rising Sun Yoga.

Part of the original redevelopment project included restoring an adjacent heritage building which is now home to the popular outdoor store, Vamos. During renovations to the building, the original storefront was uncovered and Mr. Pike ensured that it too was brought back to commercial life and used in the new structure. The accounting firm of Colby McGeachy occupies office space on the second floor of Heritage Court.

Heritage Mall is a neighbouring 5,000 square foot commercial facility with five retail businesses, which Mr. Pike renovated in 2013. Part of the old stone structure, used originally as an icehouse, still sports cast iron horse ties on the exterior walls. Commercial tenants in the Heritage Mall include Almonte Natural Foods, New Beginnings gift shop, DNA Nails, Poochie Dog Spa and Heritage Salon.

Mr. Pike feels that the retail and commercial success of “main streets” in small towns is dependent on business entrepreneurs. “There is no free ride in small towns. Many business people think that the elected politicians should finance and bail out downtown business cores. In fact what small towns need are business entrepreneurs with a vision, a passion to succeed, a strong desire to give back to the community, and the financial wherewithal to make it happen.”

He acknowledges that some downtowns are better positioned to succeed than others noting also that Almonte was the home of Dr. James Naismith who invented the game of basketball. The town’s textile industry left a legacy of historic buildings, one of which houses a museum.

“In Almonte, we have an interesting main street that curves and follows the Mississippi River. The heritage of our town is based on the woolen mills and many of the old buildings have been renovated, restored and expanded. It’s been a group effort on the part of a number of committed individuals”, Mr. Pike said.