Once there were busy storefronts, bright lights and crowded movie theatres. Today, there are pockets of vibrancy, but Barrington Street is mostly known for its papered-up windows, construction sites and for-rent signs. However, as new businesses move in and construction projects finish, change is sweeping the street that was once the “Broadway of Halifax.”
“I do get people who haven’t been downtown for years coming in and saying, ‘Oh my God, things are really changing down here,’ which is a change from people coming in and saying for 10 years, ‘Oh my God, everything is closing down here,’” says Mimi Fautley, owner of knitting supplies store The Loop.
Counteracting another spate of closures (including Hilltribe, Renaissance and Little Mysteries), there have been a number of developments recently. The Roy Building has given way to a new condo development and a bakery called The Old Apothecary and restaurant Elle’s Bistro have both opened. Freak Lunchbox has expansion plans and clothing retailer Urban Outfitters opened up shop in the old Sam the Record Man location.
Fautley thinks Barrington Street is entering a new stage, explaining that she’s seen its fortunes change over the decade The Loop has been there. “I think something that quite remarkable about Halifax is that it was unchanged for so long and now suddenly there’s a lot of change and Barrington is a perfect example of that,” she says.
Laura MacLeod is the owner of The Old Apothecary. She believes the support-local trend is helping Barrington’s revival. “People want to know the people who own the stores again,” she says. “They want to get their meat from a butcher and bread from a baker. They are rebelling a bit against the Walmarts and the Costcos and the disconnection those have.”
Elle’s Bistro owner Mary Elle Planetta finds that customers want to spend more time walking around an area than travelling by car, so they’re attracted to neighbourhoods like Barrington. “I think a lot of it has to do with the sprawl of the city and having everything within walking distance,” she says.
Planetta also says with new developments coming to the downtown area, it’s starting to positively affect other businesses. One such place that seems to be bringing more foot traffic to Barrington is the Halifax Central Library.
“I’m surprised that it’s affected us here, but we’ve had people come in and say, ‘I’ve spent the day at the new library,’” says Planetta whose restaurant is in the former Just Us location. “I think when people are in the area they are walking around and making a day of it.”
Despite these changes, Fautley does note some businesses have been on the street for years, which shows that not everything about Barrington has been negative. “There’s a lot of vacant space, but there has been a lot of vacant space on Barrington Street for many years now,” explains Fautley. “We all have really devoted customers who have allowed our businesses to thrive. In spite of everything, businesses have been operating relatively successfully on Barrington Street all this time.”
Along with her store, there are a number of other longstanding businesses like Chives and Deserres. “There are still a large percentage of windows that still have paper over them, but I do think it [Barrington] will have a complete turn around,” says MacLeod. “It may take two, three years to get there, but it will be full again and the busy, lively street it should be for being the downtown core of Halifax.”
CORRECTION: Due to a fact-checking mistake, Mimi Fautley’s last name was misspelled in the print edition (October 2015). The article above has been corrected. Halifax Magazine regrets the error.