The once-sketchy West Broadway-Sherbrook Street area now has a waiting list of retailers champing at the bit to set up shop there, according to one area official.
The only problem is they can't find an empty storefront to move into.
"We have a real lack of street-level commercial retail space," Leah McCormick, executive director of the West Broadway Business Improvement Zone, said in an interview. "We have some office space available, but no street-level retail."
That's a far cry from a decade or two ago, when for-rent signs were commonplace and the area wasn't even on the radar for most local business owners.
"This area went through some rough years in the 1980s," McCormick said. "I've been here almost 13 years, and it was pretty sketchy even when I moved here."
But since then, the area has quietly morphed into one of the city's new hip districts. A whack of new businesses -- everything from restaurants and coffee shops to an IT business and a big-box clothing store -- have moved in and breathed new life into the area.
West Broadway BIZ records show that in the last six years, 20 new businesses have opened in the area. Their arrival boosted the area's business count to about 110 and has added about $2.5 million per year in additional rental income for the area's commercial property owners.
However, they also gobbled up virtually all the street-level retail space on the area's three main commercial arteries -- Sherbrook, Maryland and Broadway. And the resulting shortage is undermining the ongoing revitalization efforts of groups such as the West Broadway BIZ.
McCormick said she knows of at least three individuals or groups of individuals who are looking for space in the area. They include two entrepreneurs who want to open a coffee shop, a real estate agent who wants to open a neighbourhood office and an entrepreneur who wants to open a general store.
"And that's just the ones who have contacted me," she said, noting area retailers say they also know of others who are keen on the district.
"Sherbrook seems to be first choice, but there is interest in Broadway and Maryland also," McCormick said.
One possible solution would be to redevelop some of the big, three-storey homes on Sherbrook to create new ground-floor retail space.
That's what's being done at 143 Sherbrook, which is next door to the house where McCormick's women's clothing and giftware shop -- Brave New World -- is located.
The property's owner has built a one-storey addition to the front of the house, which in early April will become the new home of another women's clothing and fashion accessories shop -- EMK Clothing. The upper floors will remain residential units.
EMK owner Erin Kembel, who designs and makes her own clothing, has leased about 1,100 square feet in the building. About 500 square feet will serve as her retail shop and the rest will be studio/work space.
Kembel said she's been running her business out of the basement of her family's Fort Garry home, "and I've just reached the point where I've outgrown the basement."
She said she had her eye on the West Broadway-Sherbrook area for some time. "I've been watching all of these new businesses opening up and it seems like such an exciting area."
She said her husband happened to be driving by the Sherbrook Street property and spotted a for-rent sign. So she raced down to check it out and promptly signed a five-year lease.
"It was just so perfect. I love the street traffic and the pedestrian vibe the area has. And I like the surrounding neighbourhood. It sort of suits the genre of clothing I have."
McCormick said there are also a number of vacant lots that would be suitable for new mixed-use developments that could include retail/commercial space on the main floor and residential or office space above.
That's exactly what the owners of Syverson Monteyne Architecture have in mind for a vacant lot the firm owns on the southeast corner of Maryland and Westminster Avenue.
Dean Syverson, who is also vice-chairman of the West Broadway BIZ, said the firm plans to put up a three-storey building that will include up to 2,500 square feet of retail/commercial space on the ground floor and either business condos or residential units on the other two floors. They expect to begin construction early next year and spend about $1.5 million.
"I think we've come to an appreciation that there is a considerable demand... for mixed-use space (in the area)," Syverson said. "And there's a big demand for small-scale commercial space that's suited for retail or professional offices."
He said that in the approximately three years since he and business partner Tom Monteyne relocated their business from the Exchange District to 194 Sherbrook, they've seen a number of other new businesses open on the street.
Like McCormick, Syverson hopes to see other property owners either investing in new developments or redeveloping or refurbishing their existing buildings.
"I'll be knocking on doors and talking to property owners," McCormick said, adding the BIZ also will be offering enhanced street-front improvement grants up to $5,000 this year to help spur new development.
"We've got the funding in place to do three this year," she said.
Know of any newsworthy or interesting trends or developments in the local office, retail, industrial, or multifamily-residential sectors? Let real estate reporter Murray McNeill know at the email address below, or at 204-697-7254.