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Revisiting the Market District


Earlier last month I got called out on Twitter. 

Hard. 

Four years ago I wrote a post called Four Ways to Fix the Market District. Last month, I made the point in a tweet that the Market District was broken. My theory was simple: if something needs fixed it's clearly broken. Numerous people took offence to my choice of words. One person in particular however challenged me to look at the Market District again and so that's what I did. 

Over the last few weeks I've made it a point to spend time in around the Market District and take in all that it has to offer. 

And it has things to offer. It has a lot of potential. 

But I still think it needs improved upon. 

In 2014 when I wrote the first article, the city’s new Market was ten years old. The original premise was that the Market in Downtown Kitchener would serve as Downtown’s eastern gateway. It would not only house the weekend farmer’s market, but also a series of vendors and storefronts and create a destination that people would flock to. But here’s the problem At the time 10 years later, and now four years after that, other than the Saturday market, these things haven’t happened. 

Now I think it's important that we define what truly constitutes The Market District. When the city first came out with the idea of the Market District, it was bordered by King Street East, Frederick Street, Weber Street and Cedar Street. Many people were upset at my comments thinking I was targeting downtown Kitchener as a whole. Those of you who know me, know I'm a huge advocate for downtown Kitchener as a whole. But the fact remains, The Market District leaves something to be desired. 


So I set out to do some exploring in hopes that in fact I was wrong. That a lot had changed in four years. But some things hadn’t. 

There are some really great shops and restaurants in the Market District. Yeti Cafe is fantastic! Shout out to Nova Era, my favourite bakery in town. But unfortunately as good as Nova Era or Yeti Cafe is, they’re not good enough to be a destination for the entire district. They’re not enough to prop it up on their shoulders. 

When I wrote the original post, I suggested four things would dramatically improve the Market District and help inject it with life. They are: 
  1. Get an Anchor Tenant 
  2. Better Hours of Operation 
  3. Grow the population 
  4. Overhaul Market Lane 

Four years later and all four of these things would still improve things dramatically. Four years later, the Market District still has a long way to go to be a day in and day out destination in Downtown Kitchener. 

Back then I argued that an anchor tenant would go a long way to helping the district be an everyday destination. I understand it already is on market days, but that’s not an everyday occurrence, that’s once a week. The front plaza feels very disconnected from the street because it’s elevated. But that’s not changing. An anchor tenant to draw people in off the streets will help mitigate that.  I don't think that you have to get an anchor tenant in the Market District, but I think it goes a long way.  The one thing I have changed my tune on is that an anchor tenant would make it an everyday destination.  There are very few tenants that have that kind of draw.  I'm not sure I can think of one that already exists on a day in and day out level in Kitchener. 

The Kitchener Market NEEDS better hours.  The hours of operation are still what they were four years ago. Open until 3 on four of five weekdays plus the Saturday market. Far too often when you walk by the Market, it’s a ghost town. In order for it to be a lively area, there needs to be activity around the clock. The shops around it help to balance that out, but with the Market being such a focal point, it needs to take the lead. 

The Kitchener Market NEEDS better hours.

In order to have that activity, there needs to be people. And ideally, there needs to be people living near by. Stores and restaurants and spaces will draw people to the Market District. But just as much as those, people draw in people. There needs to be more high density residential in the Market District. Is there residential around the Market District? Sure. Is there enough to really make it a lively neighbourhood? No. So much of the downtown Kitchener focus is in the West end near King and Victoria. And that’s fine, they deserve the hype. But the East end does too. The new Drewlo rental towers will help a ton, but another project or two would bring the critical mass of people that needs to be in place to really sustain the district. Imagine The One Hundred or Charlie West at Cedar and King. Or the Cortes on King at Duke and Cedar. That would make a massive change.   All of those residents would not only support existing businesses, but would encourage others to take up shop in Downtown Kitchener's East end.

I will say this, having there be a Kitchener Market LRT stop helps a lot.  Knowing that people are an easy rapid transit ride from being right in the Market District is a big deal.  But it's not the same as having people live there.  When people can leave their homes, apartments or wherever it is that they live, and walk around the neighbourhood, that is the best case scenario.


Finally, a Market Lane overhaul. My original thought was that Market Lane would make for a great pedestrian only, artisan village type of corridor. I still think that would be cool. Is it necessary? No. But things like this help to create a destination. Look at the space in the picture below. The potential for that to be a people place is great. Highlight these great spaces. 


But maybe on market days, some streets become pedestrian only?  That would encourage people to get out and wander around before or after they've done their market shopping.

So the four things I wrote about are still valid four years later. 

When a place has as much potential as the Market District, I just hate to see it not reach it.

When I made a point of spending time in the Market District I went not just to experience it, but to look for those four things, and to see how they might impact things. And frankly, change is still needed.  I struggle to not think that this area, while having potential is still a weak spot in Downtown Kitchener. 

So maybe it was my word choice that was wrong. Maybe it doesn’t need “fixed”, maybe it’s not “broken”, but honestly, I find it hard not to make the argument that it doesn’t need improved upon. 

When a place has as much potential as the Market District, I just hate to see it not reach it.
How interesting and timely your post is. This past Saturday my daughters (7 and 9) and myself decided to put backpacks on and go for an adventure DTK. We parked at the Charles/Benton garage. Our first stop was Darlise Cafe for breakfast. WOW, unbelievable food. Service was amazing and the atmosphere was great. We then walked around the core, checking out construction sites and taking in what the future is going to look like (very positive). We stopped for coffee and perhaps the best hot chocolate in the city at Matter of Taste. We sat there for a while drying out and warming up. Wonderful friendly people coming and going. People actually acknowledging one another with smiles and hellos, how refreshing. We set off to walk toward the market. We passed a guy having an episode yelling at no one and talking to himself. (likely some mental health issues) My daughters questioned his behavior so we discussed mental health issues and how some people are disadvantaged and need assistance. The walk was nice looking into different shops and taking notes of restaurants we want to come back to. A stop in the New City Supermarket for treats and watching live fish. We got to the market and spent lots of time there buying from vendors and listening to buskers. Oh, and I was able to get a 2 dollar parking coupon for the Benton Street parking garage, how cheap is that !! As we exited the marked we were facing our favorite Vietnamese restaurant, Pho Dau Bo, and we were in for our next meal. Then we started walking back to the parked vehicle only to see the LRT go by at Charles onto Frederick, we all thought the same thing. We cant wait till the day that we can ride the LRT into the DTK and do it all over again.

I agree, the East end has lots of potential to further develop around the market. I believe that as the new residential units come on stream, we will see many great improvements. I think it will end up being a destination point. What I think people need to do in the interim is look closer at what is there. There is a great diversity of culture that offers much. Sure it doesn't always look very polished and perfect like Uptown Waterloo, but my kids get an experience that opens their eyes more, and will make them more diverse.

Just my thoughts.....
I would have said that the Market District has been "static to improving" in recent years, and that the planned developments to the east along with the LRT station will see it move to "improving" over the next couple of years. An anchor tenant (imported foods? cheese/meats? kitchenwares? other?) for the Market would be nice, but I'd be careful about things like Market hours, unless the idea is that it should move to an "urban market" rather than a "farmers' market". I think the time must be coming for the Market to reinstate a Wednesday market, but I'd be satisfied with that.
(10-30-2018, 09:53 AM)panamaniac Wrote: [ -> ]I would have said that the Market District has been "static to improving" in recent years, and that the planned developments to the east along with the LRT station will see it move to "improving" over the next couple of years.  An anchor tenant (imported foods? cheese/meats? kitchenwares? other?) for the Market would be nice, but I'd be careful about things like Market hours, unless the idea is that it should move to an "urban market" rather than a "farmers' market".   I think the time must be coming for the Market to reinstate a Wednesday market, but I'd be satisfied with that.

I agree, A Wed market would be amazing !
(10-30-2018, 09:53 AM)panamaniac Wrote: [ -> ]I would have said that the Market District has been "static to improving" in recent years, and that the planned developments to the east along with the LRT station will see it move to "improving" over the next couple of years.  An anchor tenant (imported foods? cheese/meats? kitchenwares? other?) for the Market would be nice, but I'd be careful about things like Market hours, unless the idea is that it should move to an "urban market" rather than a "farmers' market".   I think the time must be coming for the Market to reinstate a Wednesday market, but I'd be satisfied with that.

That's a great way of describing it.

I think the hours can only change when there is a population base to support it.  Doing so prematurely would only hurt vendors.  People will draw in people.
(10-30-2018, 09:49 AM)Rainrider22 Wrote: [ -> ]How interesting and timely your post is.  This past Saturday my daughters (7 and 9) and myself decided to put backpacks on and go for an adventure DTK. We parked at the Charles/Benton garage.  Our first stop was Darlise Cafe for breakfast.  WOW, unbelievable food.  Service was amazing and the atmosphere was great.  We then walked around the core, checking out construction sites and taking in what the future is going to look like (very positive).  We stopped for coffee and perhaps the best hot chocolate in the city at Matter of Taste.  We sat there for a while drying out and warming up.  Wonderful friendly people coming and going. People actually acknowledging one another with smiles and hellos, how refreshing. We set off to walk toward the market.  We passed a guy having an episode yelling at no one and talking to himself. (likely some mental health issues)  My daughters questioned his behavior so we discussed mental health issues and how some people are disadvantaged and need assistance.  The walk was nice looking into different shops and taking notes of restaurants we want to come back to. A stop in the New City Supermarket for treats and watching live fish.  We got to the market and spent lots of time there buying from vendors and listening to buskers. Oh, and I was able to get a 2 dollar parking coupon for the Benton Street parking garage, how cheap is that !! As we exited the marked we were facing our favorite Vietnamese restaurant, Pho Dau Bo, and we were in for our next meal.   Then we started walking back to the parked vehicle only to see the LRT go by at Charles onto Frederick, we all thought the same thing. We cant wait till the day that we can ride the LRT into the DTK and do it all over again.

I agree, the East end has lots of potential to further develop around the market. I believe that as the new residential units come on stream, we will see many great improvements. I think it will end up being a destination point.  What I think people need to do in the interim is look closer at what is there.  There is a great diversity of culture that offers much.  Sure it doesn't always look very polished and perfect like Uptown Waterloo, but my kids get an experience that opens their eyes more, and will make them more diverse.

Just my thoughts.....

Sounds like a fantastic day!  

Interesting you mention Darlise Cafe.  It's been on my list of places to go for quite some time.  I need to just go!
(10-30-2018, 10:09 AM)Spokes Wrote: [ -> ]
(10-30-2018, 09:49 AM)Rainrider22 Wrote: [ -> ]How interesting and timely your post is.  This past Saturday my daughters (7 and 9) and myself decided to put backpacks on and go for an adventure DTK. We parked at the Charles/Benton garage.  Our first stop was Darlise Cafe for breakfast.  WOW, unbelievable food.  Service was amazing and the atmosphere was great.  We then walked around the core, checking out construction sites and taking in what the future is going to look like (very positive).  We stopped for coffee and perhaps the best hot chocolate in the city at Matter of Taste.  We sat there for a while drying out and warming up.  Wonderful friendly people coming and going. People actually acknowledging one another with smiles and hellos, how refreshing. We set off to walk toward the market.  We passed a guy having an episode yelling at no one and talking to himself. (likely some mental health issues)  My daughters questioned his behavior so we discussed mental health issues and how some people are disadvantaged and need assistance.  The walk was nice looking into different shops and taking notes of restaurants we want to come back to. A stop in the New City Supermarket for treats and watching live fish.  We got to the market and spent lots of time there buying from vendors and listening to buskers. Oh, and I was able to get a 2 dollar parking coupon for the Benton Street parking garage, how cheap is that !! As we exited the marked we were facing our favorite Vietnamese restaurant, Pho Dau Bo, and we were in for our next meal.   Then we started walking back to the parked vehicle only to see the LRT go by at Charles onto Frederick, we all thought the same thing. We cant wait till the day that we can ride the LRT into the DTK and do it all over again.

I agree, the East end has lots of potential to further develop around the market. I believe that as the new residential units come on stream, we will see many great improvements. I think it will end up being a destination point.  What I think people need to do in the interim is look closer at what is there.  There is a great diversity of culture that offers much.  Sure it doesn't always look very polished and perfect like Uptown Waterloo, but my kids get an experience that opens their eyes more, and will make them more diverse.

Just my thoughts.....

Sounds like a fantastic day!  

Interesting you mention Darlise Cafe.  It's been on my list of places to go for quite some time.  I need to just go!

In my experience, the food is quite good and the breakfasts are excellent.  It is often virtually empty, however, and I'm not sure why.  I think it's a good option in DTK.
(10-30-2018, 10:10 AM)panamaniac Wrote: [ -> ]
(10-30-2018, 10:09 AM)Spokes Wrote: [ -> ]Sounds like a fantastic day!  

Interesting you mention Darlise Cafe.  It's been on my list of places to go for quite some time.  I need to just go!

In my experience, the food is quite good and the breakfasts are excellent.  It is often virtually empty, however, and I'm not sure why.  I think it's a good option in DTK.

Rob the barber at The Walper, says they do a lot of take out lunches for local business.
Closing Market Lane to cars would be quite the blow to New City Supermarket; the lane is basically just overflow parking for them as it stands.
(10-30-2018, 11:38 AM)clasher Wrote: [ -> ]Closing Market Lane to cars would be quite the blow to New City Supermarket; the lane is basically just overflow parking for them as it stands.

That parking lot behind New City is a problem, imho.  On Saturdays, the whole laneway is blocked by cars waiting to use the lot.  There has be be a better way.
If 387-397 King St E comes to fruition, it'll be a big help for the market district, in addition to the Drewlo project.
www.waterlooregionconnected.com/showthread.php

But I really think the definition of the district should extend to at least Charles St in the (Kitchener) south, and Madison or Cameron in the east. In the west, Scott St would be a better choice than Frederick.
(10-30-2018, 11:38 AM)clasher Wrote: [ -> ]Closing Market Lane to cars would be quite the blow to New City Supermarket; the lane is basically just overflow parking for them as it stands.

But that's part of the problem.  Market Lane isn't their parking lot, but it's treated as such.
(10-30-2018, 12:00 PM)tomh009 Wrote: [ -> ]If 387-397 King St E comes to fruition, it'll be a big help for the market district, in addition to the Drewlo project.
www.waterlooregionconnected.com/showthread.php

But I really think the definition of the district should extend to at least Charles St in the (Kitchener) south, and Madison or Cameron in the east. In the west, Scott St would be a better choice than Frederick.

I would probably agree with that.  I'm the Market LRT station pulls businesses and development/growth closer to and along Charles in the future.
(10-30-2018, 11:46 AM)panamaniac Wrote: [ -> ]
(10-30-2018, 11:38 AM)clasher Wrote: [ -> ]Closing Market Lane to cars would be quite the blow to New City Supermarket; the lane is basically just overflow parking for them as it stands.

That parking lot behind New City is a problem, imho.  On Saturdays, the whole laneway is blocked by cars waiting to use the lot.  There has be be a better way.

There is (1) street parking on King St, (2) a parking lot on the other side of King St, (3) Market Square parking garage and (4) Benton/Charles parking garage. There really is no shortage of parking.
(10-30-2018, 11:46 AM)panamaniac Wrote: [ -> ]That parking lot behind New City is a problem, imho.  On Saturdays, the whole laneway is blocked by cars waiting to use the lot.  There has be be a better way.

Once I've seen bylaw ticketing people blithely sitting in front of the ‘No stopping’ signs. If they did that every weekend, Kitchener could do without property taxes.

On the other hand, the bylaw officer was parked on the sidewalk on Eby.
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