April 15, 2009

Kingston Landmark to Close

I am saddened to report that downtown Kingston's landmark department store S&R will be closing this summer. S&R has been one of the last independent department stores in Ontario, offering a bewildering array of household products, food, clothing, hardware, toys, and footwear since 1959. For me, a Sunday is not complete without a browse around the four levels of crammed-in offerings. While nowhere near as kitschy, S&R has been Kingston's version of Honest Ed's. Generations of students and citizens alike have run to S&R to find that thing they needed at the best prices around. Oh ya, and it still has an elevator operator; a lovely hommage to its 1950s roots. 

According to company president “decreasing profit margins, a 100% increase in the property tax assessment and a decrease in American tourists coming to Kingston” are the primary causes of the impending closure. Many locals are pointing the blame at the nearby K-ROCK arena, an argument that defies all possible logic. Much more explanatory power lies in the changing patterns of consumer behaviour, driven by the big box warehouses in the suburbs and an urban design philosophy still stubbornly centred around vehicles. No, there is likely more blame to be laid at the feet of RioCan, which has recently developed three major big box shopping configurations within the city limits, including an in-progress outlet mall just off the 401. 

I don't wish to be an alarmist but the Downtown Kingston Business Improvement Area folks will need all of its resources and creativity in order to stave off the potential blood loss these challengers represent. Downtown Kingston is still one of the most vibrant downtown cores in all of Canada but complacency will eat away any competitive advantage, no matter how well entrenched. Harcore pitching to our own cynical suburbanites as well as tourists within a 3-hour radius will need to be stepped up. The good news is such conditions often breed innovation, something downtown Kingston should welcome with open arms. 

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