Retail Boom in Kentville

Retail Boom in Kentville
By Genevieve Allen Hearn

Our Best of the Bunch survey results reflected a trend in the town of Kentville that we’ve been closely following here at The Grapevine. Many of the winners (and runners-up) are Kentville-based businesses, which was not the case a number of years ago. There is a difference in the town, and people are noticing. A promotional video of the town produced by Canopy Creative and commissioned by the Kentville Business Community even got the attention of CTV News, who recently aired a story on the revitalization of retail businesses in Kentville.

I grew up in Kentville, and have fond memories of grabbing an ice cream at the Avery’s Farm Market in town, watching my brothers get their skates fitted at Cleve’s, and accompanying my mother to clothing stores around town. At the risk of sounding like a sentimentalist, it was a bit challenging to describe this experience twenty years later to my husband. When we made Kentville our forever home five years ago, it looked very different from my childhood memories.

When we bought a home in town, we were met with a barrage of messages about Kentville. People called it a ‘has-been’ town, or made comments about how ‘it will never turn around.’ My husband and I, in contrast, saw it as dripping with potential. We saw the beautiful old buildings, a grid system that works well for walkability, and a town book-ended by Miner’s Marsh on one side, and recreation infrastructure on the other.

As it happens, others shared in our optimism. Sasha Nelson started Hardware Gallery two years ago in a town that was lacking in cultural infrastructure. In November, the gallery transitioned to an artist co-op model under the name Tides Contemporary Gallery, led by local artist Bob Hainstock (which received runner-up for ‘Best Gallery’). Hainstock is no stranger to Kentville, having been a business owner in the town, as well as the director of the Kentville Development Corporation years back. When asked about Kentville today, Hainstock observes, “there is an unmistakable freshness and vitality. There’s little doubt that this new vibe has snuck up on a lot of people who had written off the old downtown area. The way our little artist-run gallery has been welcomed and supported is living proof of how opportunity exists in Kentville.”

girliture, a home décor shop in the heart of Kentville, won ‘Best Home Décor,’ and received runner-up for ‘Best New Business.’ “Since opening our shop in town we’ve been overwhelmed by the support of the community and the number of people travelling to our shop from away,” says owner Tanya Owen. “We have people coming from Halifax, Truro, the South Shore, Ontario, Alberta, Vancouver Island, and even the Yukon. There seems to be a new energy in Kentville that hasn’t been here for years. It’s exciting to see our little town come alive again.”

Owners of new businesses LilyPond Vintage and Sable Shortbread were intentional about entering the town during a retail upswing. Shirley Whiteway-Matheson, owner and founder of LilyPond Vintage, notes: “Five years ago I would not have considered Kentville for a place to open my business, but with the growth of new businesses in the past year, Kentville is starting to become a destination for unique shops.”

Lorraine Pike, owner of Sable Shortbread, continued on this theme: “We opened our shop in November after spending several months looking for the perfect location. We could see the resurgence of local businesses, we found that the business climate was positive, with easy communication with the Town, and we saw that there were several businesses that had been in town for decades. Businesses such as these anchor a community and we could see the great potential in Kentville to become another long-term business.”

For our part, after re-imagining Kentville for years, my husband and I, along with Jimi and Madeline Doidge, opened Maritime Express Cider Co., which we are honoured to say won ‘Best Place to Meet With Friends,’ ‘Best Venue for Drinks,’ ‘Best Venue to Hold an Event,’ and runner-up for ‘Best Live Music Venue’ and ‘Best Craft Cidery’ in this year’s survey. Doidge, originally from Ontario, wore those same rose-coloured glasses we did when he settled here. “When I moved to the Valley I had never been to Kentville and knew nothing about it. Driving through the small town, I felt like I was home. It has a mix of everything: It’s fun, weird, interesting, and just really cool.”

While some rural communities are fighting to survive, I take solace in the fact that there are small communities that are flourishing in Nova Scotia. The way things are going, we can certainly add Kentville to that list!