Get Downtown

I grew up in the small community of Stratford, Ontario where everybody basically knows everyone, and where the downtown core boasts amazing, unique and successful small businesses.

That's not to say owning a small business in Stratford isn't a struggle. It's a community overrun with tourists while the Stratford Festival is in full swing, making a lot of locals feel that the downtown core isn't really for them. It's for the tourists. That's a real thorn in the side of merchants who depend on locals to keep their doors open year round (especially when those locals come calling for donations). Imagine staking your livelihood on that dynamic.

It's a different scene in Kitchener. While there's certainly tourism, it doesn't take over the community and it definitely isn't the backbone of the downtown core. Merchants in downtown Kitchener have a very different, and interesting struggle.

Photo by  Amit Kumar Tamang
What's less prevalent in Stratford, but thriving here is the suburbia factor. Kitchener is part of the tri-cities: three communitiies that have expanded towards each other and include Kitchener, Waterloo, and Cambridge. The suburban communities in all three have created shopping centres away from the downtown cores. Malls, super centres, and massive plazas serve the needs of people in surrounding areas and draw in shoppers looking to get everything  in one place. Convenient for residents, not as convenient for the downtown cores.

Exacerbating the problem of luring people downtown seems to be perception. While most would probably claim that social services are a good thing, they might not be as willing to pair strolling past the Probation and Parole Office in downtown Kitchener with their shopping experience. The core houses a lot of social services, brings a mixture of people, and gets slammed for being unsavoury. Some people are still afraid to #getdowntown. Agree with it, or think it's totally narrow minded, that's just how it is.

Which is really unfortunate.

If you haven't been downtown in a while because you think it's 'ghetto', or because you've had a bad experience, I can tell you- as someone who comes from a city that boasts a strong, beautiful, and award winning core (in fact, as someone who spent many years managing a shop in that core)- this is how I experience downtown Kitchener:

When I moved here it was a place to let loose, drink, dance, and make a whole lot of merry. Then it became the place where I fell more deeply in love than I had known would be possible in my life. Now it's the place my husband and I bring our family.

In the warmer months we head downtown to event after event in the core: Word on The Street, The Multicultural Festival,  Downtown Kitchener Ribfest & Craft Beer Show, Kidspark, Beat Rocks the Block. There's always an amazing range of people, and without fail we always have a blast.

We spend countless hours in Victoria Park- strolling by the river, out on the splash pad, picnicking, flying kites, people watching.

We take the girls down to Kitchener Market (find lots to rave about on my vlog), and watch my daughter with the 5 other kids that are inevitably playing in that ball fountain, being scolded for getting their clothes wet.  

During Oktoberfest we tote our little chairs down King and position ourselves to watch the floats as they pass, loving how much more our girls enjoy it the older they get.

Every winter we take the kids down to the rink in front of city hall. My son skates circles around me and tries to teach me how to do what's second nature to him afters years of hockey while couples, kids, and students laugh, whizz, and stumble their way around the rink.

We go to art exhibits. We eat. We hear music. We meet with friends. We play life size chess. We buy books.

Nothing untoward ever happens.

I guess it has a lot to do with our attitude. We head downtown looking for a good time, and we always find it. If we set out looking for something to complain about, well, we'd probably find that too.

See more of the community we love through our eyes here.