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St. Albert downtown sees new business growth

But Downtown Business Association president fears high rent prices could send some businesses packing
Instead of asking the city to rename St. Albert’s downtown

The number of businesses operating downtown has been rising steadily since 2020, but shops are mixed on whether the city’s core is good value for its premium price.

Data provided by the city shows that there are currently 230 downtown businesses. That’s a big increase from 2020, when only 160 businesses called the core home.

It has been growing by roughly 15-20 businesses per year, with the largest jump between 2022 – 2023.

Daniel Araujo moved his tattoo studio from Calgary to downtown St. Albert in March.

“I love it,” he said. “It’s a small community, but super tight. People are super friendly.”

Don’t Cry Tattoo Co. at 8 Perron Street has a “super cool balcony” and enough space for Araujo to create his realist tattoos alongside a visiting artist from Chile. Plus, it’s “quiet” and “private” – more than Campbell Business Park, another neighbourhood he considered.

He came to St. Albert because he was looking for a good place to raise his kids, and because Calgary’s market was “too saturated.”

“I’m super busy,” he said. “St. Albert received us really well.” Most of his clients are local.

Another reason he picked the city’s core is familiarity. “Everybody knows downtown, right?

Businesses also on the move

While the trend downtown has been towards business growth, many shops have recently left the core.

Gretzie Parth owns GP Makeup, a beauty salon and beauty product retail spot that opened on Perron Street in 2020.

This year she decided not to renew her lease, and she moved out March 1 to start selling her products online and through Edmonton-area brick and mortar shops.

“The reason why I was drawn to downtown St. Albert… is that I always felt that downtown had character,” she said. “I’ve lived in St. Albert my entire life, and I think it's an area that doesn't get enough attention.”

But the reasons for leaving downtown behind and instead operating her business from home started compounding.

When it comes to the future of downtown, there’s a mismatch between the vision of more established businesses and corporate offices and newer shops, she said. She’d like restaurants to be permitted to stay open later, for example — a position that faced some opposition in meetings between downtown businesses.

Rent for many downtown spaces is also, on average, higher than what’s on offer in newer developments on the north end of town and in Campbell Business Park.

And the farmer’s market, which she thought would attract customers, instead clogged up valuable parking space.   

Although most of her customers find her through social media, Parth got fewer walk-ins than she expected.

“If you don’t already have an audience and a following, then it is not the place to open up a business,” she said. “I think people think there will be a lot of pedestrians, and that’s where people get sucked into the area.”

A number of downtown businesses have moved or shut down recently, including Cerdo Tacos + Tequila, Pose Hair, Hurray for Paper, and the Little Honey Bee Boutique.

Shannon Roche, president of the Downtown Business Association and owner of Divine and Free Wellness Spa on St. Michael Street, worries that the premium price of some downtown leases may drive away businesses, especially as cheaper options open in newer developments on the edges of the city.

Downtown has a “unique setting,” and many of its boutique stores do very well, Roche said.

“But we're kind of in a transitional area where there's a lot of work that needs to be done,” she said. “We really need to have like those strong partnerships between businesses and landlords and the City of St. Albert to bring that transition into fruition.”

She hopes more downtown landlords become open to negotiating price per square foot and allowing tenants to renovate.

Spaces in the core are also smaller than in many other parts of the city, she said.

“What you can attract is going to drop based on the square footage that you have available,” she said. “We need to be more competitive downtown based on our square footage limitations.”

To make downtown a bustling heart of the city, “everybody needs to work as a team,” she said.

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