Walkerville: the new Yorkville?
October 18th, 2012:
New vision reinventing vibrant district
In a sense the entire life cycle is contained in the Windsor commercial district of Walkerville.
At one end there's Bump Maternity, 1719 Wyandotte E., a store that's all about birth and babies. At the other, there's Walter D. Kelly Funeral Home, 1969 Wyandotte E.
In between, in the five blocks along Wyandotte between Chilver Road on the west and Devonshire Road on the east, then north to the riverfront, there's a vibrant district which is in the process of reinventing itself as a self-sustaining commercial and artistic community.
Walkerville shares many features with Toronto's famous Yorkville. "Windsor's Yorkville? I'm good with that," said Joan Charette, spokeswoman for the Walkerville business improvement area.
The area has received international attention in recent months, having been featured on the This Old House website, thisoldhouse.com, as one of the best old neighbourhoods in Canada.
Artist Scott Gregory, 69, who was born in Walkerville and still lives there, had this to say about his old neighbourhood: "Walkerville is a microcosm of what Windsor could have been." The architecture has been preserved, not stripped away or torn down, said Gregory. "You have people with vision moving here," he said.
At a recent exhibit of his new works at the Arts Council Windsor & Region's Walkerville gallery, Artspeak, Gregory was excited by how many young visitors dropped in after having taken in the neighbourhood's other attractions, the restaurants and the shops.
"More and more like-minded people are moving in and saying let's add to what there is and not tear it down and put up a fast-food joint," he said.
Among Windsor neighbourhoods, Walkerville has always had a uniqueness about it, a mindset that goes back to when it was first conceived by Hiram Walker as a full service community for those he employed at his distillery. A sort of walled village without a wall.
He paid for the police and fire services, kept the streets lighted and clean, and even bought a ferry service from Detroit to dock at his doorstep. Walker wanted his employees to live and play within walking distance of the business.
Even today, there's a definite mood shift as you stroll from the more central blocks of Wyandotte Street to the area east of Chilver Road.
"It's just a lot quieter and safer," said Gregory. "You can feel it in the air."
Many of the businesses are legacy enterprises, like Monarch Mattress, Jackie's Variety, several law practices, the Victoria Tavern and The Velvet Restaurant.
But many more have sprung to life in the last decade or less, like Vito's Pizzeria, Ye Olde Walkerville Pharmacy, The Twisted Apron, Taloola Cafe, and Walkermole.
There are clothing stores, both new and resale, antique shops, hair salons and printers, a former movie theatre and taverns, photographic and art studios, a comic book store, the Walkerville Times, architect and lawyer offices, a massage therapist, a florist, a radio station, a bank and money exchanges.
Most of what you need to get through an average day. The only thing missing is a grocery store, said Charette, and there are some of those and the city market just a few blocks south. "There have been 10 new businesses open up here since the start of 2012," Charette said.
The most recent was just this week: Biblioasis, an independent publisher, opened an administrative office and storefront at 1520 Wyandotte E.
It was a vote of confidence from an arts-related business that was drawn by the growing image of Walkerville as an arts enclave.
Biblioasis, said Charette, also represents how the community is an organic work in progress. The publisher took over an empty store that formerly housed Candylicious, an upscale candy shop.
"Not every initiative succeeds," Charette said. "But there is an environment that encourages entrepreneurs to take a good look at Walkerville."
For every Candylicious, however, there's a Gourmet Emporium, 1799 Wyandotte E., which opened in a former bank and continued as a trendsetting resto-lounge.
The area now rivals Erie Street as a destination for trendy eateries and taverns. As fellow Star writer Ted Whipp notes in an accompanying article, the choices are many and exciting for a night on the town.
There's Walkermole, offering Mexican food and enough choices of tequila to please the most discerning of Latin patrons. There's Taloola Cafe, a funky little tea and cakes place where you can also hear live folk music. There's Vito's Pizzeria, which has quickly earned a reputation as the place to go for individual pizzas and Italian beer. There's Twisted Apron and its newest side business, a sauce and condiments tore, that serves up some of the tastiest homemade meals around. There's Thyme to Go, which serves up takeout dishes with flair.
Perhaps the surest sign the arts community has embraced Walkerville is the decision of several artists to live and work there. You have established visual artists like Gregory, Adele Duck, and Julia Conlon. There are photography and art studios, like Magana Gallery, Kevin Kavanaugh's studio, and of course ACWR's Artspeak.
Xtreme Danceworks is located just off Wyandotte on Chilver, while Windsor Printmaker's Forum has made its home at 420 Devonshire for many years.
"People are always telling me the reason they are considering moving here is the strong arts community," Charette said.
The Windsor Star
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