Wednesday, February 9, 2011

C.C.B. Electric Works and Red Apron

This is C.C.B. Electric Works, at 564 Gladstone Avenue. As the sign says, it's been serving Centretown with electric motors and parts since 1907. The owners proudly display antique equipment in the middle section of their storefront, which used to be Nicastro's.

C.C.B. stands for Crowe, Costello and Black, and was previously at 378 Bank Street, across from Lewis Street. Here's a shot from 1979 supplied by Midcentury Modernist.

At the time, the neighbourhood was experimenting with traffic calming options. One of them was to close off side street accesses to bank, turning Lewis into a parkade. The street lanes were narrower, but the sidewalks gained little due to trees and planter boxes on the reclaimed sections. Obviously, this didn't last.

Next door, at 376 Bank Street, was the National Manufacturing Company Ltd. This photo is from 1910:

An interior shot shows their display of wood stoves.

In 2000, C.C.B. and the other tenants were kicked out by the landlord, who wanted to build a five-storey condo building (PDF) above. Because C.C.B. had just signed a five-year lease, the landlord paid a considerable sum to move them into their Gladstone Avenue location, where they've been since. The other tenants weren't as lucky.

Apparently only two condo units were sold, and the reconstruction plan was scuttled. New businesses moved in, such as Capital Laundry and Maison Baguettes, etc. (together where C.C.B. used to be) and SAAB salon and spa (where the National Manufacturing Company was), seen here in 2009. The building at Bank and Gilmour which contains Bridgehead was also part of the redevelopment plan.

Maison Baguettes, etc. closed as a casualty of the reconstruction of Bank Street (one of only a handful of stores that did--I honestly don't think that's more than one would expect from natural turnover) leaving a croissant-shaped hole in the Village's middle. SAAB quickly expanded to fill the space.

Inside of 564 Gladstone, some memorabilia is posted on the walls, including a photo of one of the original owners at a lathe, and an old newspaper advertisement which boasts that C.C.B. "Serves an important need in our community." Indeed it does, and high rents are forcing it even further from the city. There is also an 1800s lathe that was offered to the National Museum of Science and Technology, which declined the offer because the original documentation wasn't included.

C.C.B. had to move out to somewhere in the west end after rent increased following its second five-year lease on Gladstone Avenue. Paul Pharand, the owner, told me that his revenue was just barely paying for rent and nothing else.

Even though C.C.B. served primarily trades and corporate clients, its departure from Centretown at the end of 2010 is just another example of the emigration of basic services from downtown neighbourhoods, as lamented by the Citizen's Kelly Egan (whose family owned the former Esso Station at Bronson and Gladstone). This is the movement that has left us without a hardware store, with few grocery options, fewer gas and service stations, and other gaps in the community fabric. In Westboro, a longtime bakery had to close its doors in 2007 due to rising rents from the influx of boutique stores, despite booming business. At least the Glebe has managed to hold on to its hardware and grocery stores.

It's not all bad news. Gladstone Avenue, one of the last low-rent parts of Centretown, is starting to "Glebify", with new condos at Bank, Kent, and Cambridge, a possible new community garden, a certain community-minded resident, and more no doubt coming down the line.

The trendy, boutique store taking C.C.B.'s place is Red Apron, which has outgrown its space across the street after five years in business. Renovations are underway and according to Red Apron's blog, and they aim to move in sometime in April. [Edit: See my subsequent blog post on the opening of Red Apron in the new location]

I've noticed that much better care has been taken of the gardens in the (car-oriented) plaza since hip foodie-magnets Red Apron and True Loaf bakery moved in. The Ethiopian convenience store has been replaced by a café serving Turkish coffee and hookahs, which gives the area an added ethnic bent.

It's great to hear the Red Apron, a local business that promotes good food, is doing well. But this kind of success is unintentionally causing basic services to leave Centretown.

It's hard enough for people in Dalhousie to live without a supermarket (and in Centretown with limited, high price options).

Other cities have had the problem of retail moving out of dying downtowns. We have the opposite problem: attractive walkable neighbourhoods are attracting condos and upscale boutique stores that are pushing out important services. Paradoxically, the inhabitants of these pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods require cars to get out to the suburbs for hardware, office supplies, and affordable groceries and housewares. What can we do to keep basic services in Centretown, and how much further will it go? Imagine having your car stranded downtown because there were no more gas stations left to refill at!


  1. To a retailer, the value of a location will depend on the character of the neighbourhood. That changes over time. The land is more valuable to retailers who sell to people who wander through the neighbourhood. Presumably, C.C.B. isn't likely to lose a lot of business by existing further from town, and they'll save on rent.

    But I don't agree with your statement that:

    Even though C.C.B. served primarily trades and corporate clients, its departure from Centretown at the end of 2010 is just another example of the emigration of basic services from downtown neighbourhoods

    An electric motor store isn't really a basic service. I'm sure there's a better example, maybe when the Canadian Tire left in the 1990s A recent example outside of Centretown is when Old Ottawa South lost the Fruit & Company (although it is now replaced by Cedars).

    Having a reasonable grocery store is so important to a neighbourhood. If the Metro in the Glebe folded, it would change our lives. The current transportation choices when picking up a missing ingredient are either biking or walking. If it disappeared and the closest such store was much further, the appeal for active transportation would be far less. I'm able to and will happily pay a premium to have a store I don't drive to.

    Here's the thing I like most about the neighbourhood I live in: at around 5:30pm, Bank St. is flooded by people walking home from work downtown. Stores are able to take advantage of that clientele, and people actually like buying from stores that are on their route. It is a pleasant self-sustaining system. I'd much rather have a cafe than an electric motor store.

    And I don't have any research to back this up, but having local pedestrian traffic makes a neighbourhood feel a lot safer.

  2. Centretowners dont have to drive out to the suburbs for a hardward store. The largest independent hardware store in canada is located right in somerset ward: Preston Hardware. Easy to walk or bike to. Huge selection. Nor is the giant cdn tire on carling far out in the suburbs. I bike there easily, it also is one of the largest cdn tires in the country. Centretowners love to complain they dont have a hardware store, but when they did, they gave it so much biz it went belly up.

  3. Alex - it is a basic service. Imagine you're an electrician servicing a downtown client and you need a part. Instead of a short trip to Gladstone, you now have to go out to Merivale or further.

    Anonymous - Preston Hardware doesn't have any lumber, nor a garden department, nor even compact fluorescent lightbulbs. The old Canadian Tire was way up in the central business district, about as far from much of Centretown as Preston Hardware is.

  4. I was under the impression that C.C.B. built and rewound electrical motors, which would be used for industrial applications. I didn't think they had parts for anything generic one would need for home or office electrical repair.

    If you're looking for hardware stores outside the neighbourhood but still close by, there's also the Home Hardware on Bank in the Glebe. Certainly it lacks the character of Preston, though.

    - A

  5. If I'm not mistaken, Capital Laundry is not a new business, but was previously across the street. When it moved the Herb and Spice store was able to expand to its current two-storefront width. (I've always wondered if H&S gave the laundry some incentive to relocate.)

  6. Very interesting history lesson that I enjoyed reading! Thanks for that. In my opinion, the CCB was an ugly shop that added to the general dreariness that is much of Gladstone at the present moment.

    I'm delighted that Red Apron needs to expand and is staying nearby. Since I moved into the neighbourhood six years ago I've been very happy to see a healthy variety of openings: True Loaf, Blue Nile restaurant, Auntie Loo's, ZenKitchen, Raw Sugar, and Red Apron to name a few. These places have breathed new life into the neighbourhood and I hope the trend continues.

    One correction: the Ethiopian convenience store has not been replaced by a second Ethiopian restaurant. That space was converted into a cafe which has hookahs, Arabic script, and an offering of Turkish coffee on the main sign outside.

  7. Mark - let's assume I meant that CL is 'new to that space' ;)

    Alex - yes, that is what CCB did, and there were frequently vans and trucks from various tradespeople parked outside, including the OCDSB. Now these tradespeople working on downtown buildings have to burn a lot of gas to head out to an industrial park somewhere for the same service. It's one of those services like janitorial services that isn't pretty but needs to be around. And for hardware stores, I already noted that Preston and Home Hardware (my two go-to stores) have no lumber and limited garden supplies.

    parasol - thanks for the correction. I've edited the post accordingly. Gas stations and service stations are pretty universally ugly, too, but if there weren't any in Centretown it would make life pretty difficult. And note that this trend has affected bakeries, too.

  8. CCB moved to the City Centre I believe. So they are not lost to Centretown, depending on how you draw the borders.