A new breed of business owner is moving into Mitton Village determined to restore the once-thriving commercial area in the heart of Sarnia.
“We are going back to the basics, supporting the community so the community supports us,” says Chrissy McRoberts, co-owner of Dog Eat Dog Home Furnishings and Décor.
McRoberts opened her shop at 161 Mitton St. in 2019 after several anchor stores left and others were boarded up. She likes a challenge, she said, and was attracted by the low rent and potential for neighbourhood building.
A year later, she and business partner Ruth Ann Ramsey have doubled their store size and expanded inventory to include the work of 27 artisans, most in Sarnia-Lambton.
All that during a pandemic that saw McRoberts and Ramsey push online sales. They came up with innovative ideas, like an Easter basket filled with chocolate delivered to 350 customers.
“We sold them for $15 each and didn’t make any money on them, but it meant 350 families were sure to have chocolate without worrying about going into a store,” said McRoberts.
“If we want community to support us, we have to support them.”
Goodwill is part of what’s bringing Mitton Village back to life, she said.
The geographic area is large, stretching from the former Sarnia General Hospital site on George, along Mitton to Ontario Street, where the Sarnia Farmers’ Market anchors the neighbourhood at the south end.
Sarnia struck an advisory committee two years ago dedicated to the commercial zone’s redevelopment.
“Like everything, we hit a pause because of COVID-19 but we always kept meeting informally as a group,” said Coun. Brian White.
As a result, new street signs are going up this summer, as well as new benches and tables in Mackenzie Park on Wellington Street, using a $17,000 provincial grant.
White calls these “visible victories” for the neighbourhood.
“They definitely have gotten better,” said Victoria Hallett, owner of The Grooming Studio at the corner of Mitton and Davis streets.
Attracted by low rent, she opened last year beside a former drug house. The city moved in, cleaned it up, and she hasn’t seen anyone living in the house since, Hallett said.
“I’ve never had a problem. I know my neighbours and they’re great. I’ve had no trouble at all.”
What’s more, business is brisk. The Grooming Studio is booked solid until mid-September.
Pandemic aside, retail is always challenging, and long-time anchor Kitchen Widgets closed permanently in July.
But other businesses are moving in, including a Mobil gas station and convenience store preparing to open at the Five Corners.
Julie Lester relocated her Belly Babe Maternity Boutique from Sarnia’s downtown to 167 Mitton St., where parking and accessibility are better, she said.
A tattoo artist, The Rooted Lotus, moved in beside her, and 3-D Baby Vision Fetal Imaging is opening soon at Davis and Mitton.
White said he’s optimistic about Mitton Village. The city committee is moving into the next phase of working with existing landlords, talking to potential developers, and collaborating with a grassroots group of businesses and residents eager to make the area thrive again, he said.
The Mitton Village Citizen’s Collective is planning a two-day community event Aug. 22-23 with street vendors, entertainment and a yard sale.