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Books for the Holidays

Miss Vicky Sun Dec 9, 2012

Ok, people. We all love our community, and our fabulous mainstreet is one of the reasons we love it so much. We walk to shop, and there are some wonderful, local small businesses that make our 'hood a happening, welcoming place.

But here's the thing. There's a big difference between loving our small businesses and supporting our small businesses. If we don't actually spend money, they can't afford the rent and the staff and the inventory, not to mention their own mortgages and food and daycare fees and children's activities and stuff. At some point, if they're not making enough to make it worthwhile, they have to make some tough decisions.

Kind of like the decision the owners of Collected Works are facing. They've put the store up for sale - for $1. Good deal, yes, but the new owner would also assume all of the store's liabilities, according to this article. I can imagine it has been an agonizing decision for them - they expanded the space recently to accommodate special events, but the sales just haven't made up the difference.

Bookstores are a tough business. We've seen other independents facing the same challenges - partially because people are hitting the big chains for books, partially because online purchasing is just so damned easy. But you know what else is easy? Walking down the street to buy a book. And soon we won't be able to do that.

My friend Lisa owns Octopus Books. She offered these reflections on my Facebook wall, responding to my call for folks to do their holiday shopping at Collected Works:

I am not sure if you will keep the store open, but you could at least reduce the amount the debt that the owners will be shouldering. (For long after the store closes) Along with 4 others, I bought Octopus for $1 and assumed the debt. You need deep pockets, or a penchant for poverty.... (guess which one I have). But really, if you and everyone you know makes an effort to shop at a local bookstore once a month, you could make a huge difference. One of the key points is that they expanded - to make space for lots of community events, and their sales remained flat. Unlike community centres which provide space for community and receive public funding, bookstores get no $. People love going to their bookstores to hear authors, let their kids look at books, browse and chat with friends. Bookstores love it when people do that, BUT if nobody ever buys a book, it is just not sustainable. All bookstores are telling the same story. Solution? Shop at your local independent bookstore. Not at Chapters, Not at Wal-mart, Not at Costco, Not at shoppers drug mart, not at Winners and not on line.

I wish I had pockets deep enough to work with others to save the store. Maybe some of you do. But at the very least, I can take the rest of my meagre Christmas budget and buy some books from my friends at Collected Works. I hope you will, too.

Hintonburg Hub a reality!

Miss Vicky Tue Nov 20, 2012

Oh friends, do you know how hard it has been to keep this news to myself? So hard.

But by now you've all probably heard that Somerset West Community Health Centre has finally purchased a building to house the Hintonburg Hub.

The building is located at 30 Rosemount - right now it's office space, but it has been a church, a synagogue and a Knights of Columbus Hall. It's about 9000 square feet - perfect size for clinical space and community space, with some room for expansion in the future. It's next to the library, right by the school, and other social service facilities are near by. Really, the location is perfect. Maybe even more perfect than Bethany Hope. And even better - we should be able to get it up and running by early 2014.

It has been a real rollercoaster - we started this process a few years ago, with a slightly different vision for the Hub. Initially we wanted to have housing, health care and social services in one location. But our attempts to secure funding to make that happen just didn't pan out. In the end, what worked was simplifying our plan and figuring out what we could do with what we had.

And what we had was our property at 55 Eccles - we knew we could leverage the equity in that building to buy a new property. But we needed two things: to find the right property, and to find a way to fund the expansion. Fortunately, the Local Health Integration Network felt we had a good business case and saw the need for health care in this neighbourhod - an aging population, a growing population, and no access to front-line services.

The LHIN approved funding in principle several months ago when we were in the midst of looking into a different site with our housing partner. Sadly, that site fell through. But the LHIN agreed to hold on to their commitment while we explored other options. We thought we had a shot when Domicile asked us to partner on a bid for - wait for it - the Bethany Hope site.

Domicile didn't get Bethany Hope (Claridge did - that's a whole other blog entry), so we went back to the drawing board again and put some feelers out to see what property might be available. When 30 Rosemount hit the market, we jumped on it, put in an offer and were elated to have it accepted.

Then the real fun began - the usual due diligence that goes along with buying a property, as well as many, many discussions with various provincial bureaucrats about our plans, back and forth with the LHIN and our MPP, Yasir Naqvi, about the best way to get the OK to go ahead. And thanks to their efforts and support, we got it.

So fantastic.

Of course, there are plenty of things left to do. The biggest of these things is the need to raise 500K to help with the renovations. We need to make the place accessible, put in an elevator, and ensure appropriate clinical and community space. So get ready for a capital campaign, folks, and lots of conversations about what kinds of partnerships, programs and services you'd like to see there.

Am I sad that we had to abandon the original vision of housing and health/social services? Sure. But this is just as awesome, just as needed, and we've been able to make it happen. That is something to celebrate.


Miss Vicky Fri Nov 9, 2012

So by now you have all heard that the owners of The Whalesbone will be taking over the Elmdale on January 1. The revelation caused a bit of a kerfuffle on Elmdale owner's Facebook page, where she broke the news. Word spread quickly on Twitter (I confess, my tweet of "nooooooooo!" may have added to the furor), and before long both Nat and Whalesbone owner Josh Bishop were doing serious damage control.

Not really the way Bishop wanted to announce his new business venture, I'm sure. Apparently he had wanted to break the news at the Food and Wine show this weekend (which leads me to think he might not understand this neighbourhood all that well - or at least, the folks who patron the Elmdale).

The news jumped right on it, of course, and headed down to the 'dale to get more details. They could only get so much info from the bartender, though, which didn't help too much. He could confirm the sale of the business but not much more.

Nat did post a clarification to her page after a rather spirited discussion on the first post:

Just to be clear regarding the change in ownership of the Elmdale, the owners of the Whalesbone bought the business but the Elmdale is not becoming a Whalesbone. They are adding a kitchen and will continue to have live music, just not as much. Josh tried to buy the Elmdale same time we did 5 years ago, so he's wanted this for a long time. He lives The Elmdale, loves Hintonburg and loves live music. You're all in for a treat, just give them a chance to tell you their vision! This all just happened in the last few days....I know they'll do us all proud!

We ran into Nat on the weekend and she reiterated some of this. She said that other than adding the kitchen they don't plan to make major changes - the tables and chairs will stay, as will the pickled eggs. The food is apparently supposed to be a lower price point - oysters yes, but sandwiches and smaller fare. Live music three nights a week. She seemed pretty positive about the change.

Bishop's case was helped a couple of days later with this story. I guess it helped clear up a few things, although some of this left me a little cold. I'm not sure what he expected of a neighbourhood that is gentrifying at such a rapid pace - a neighbourhood that is losing the eclectic mixed-income feel with every new restaurant or condo announcement. Of course people are going to be worried about the loss of a treasured institution.

In many ways, it's a testament to what Nat and Bruce have built since they took over the Elmdale five years ago. They took a tavern with a fairly bad reputation and made it accessible to everyone in the neighbourhood while retaining much of its regular clientele. I remember the first time the Webgeek and I went in there - well, the second time, because the first time we had Wee G in tow and we were politely informed that the tavern license did not allow us to bring in children. But that's another story. This time, we enjoyed our beer while listening to some of the regulars swap tips about making and canning sauerkraut. It was one of those awesome Hintonburg moments and we knew then that we were home.

Much of the coverage of the Elmdale's shift has focused on it as a live music venue. And that is one of its special qualities, but it is so much more than that. It has become a real community gathering place, where "old" Hintonburg and "new" Hintonburg meet. It's been host to countless community events, fundraisers, birthday parties, tweetups - heck, we've even held a potluck there. We've had two parties for The Webgeek - a costume bash where the assembled dressed as their "inner geek", and of course his 40th birthday where we brought improv to the Elmdale. That was such a success, Crush Improv started holding monthly Improv bouts and play to a packed house every time.

If you had a suggestion or a request, Nat was usually up for it. When the neighbourhood kids' band, Hey Buster, started growing in popularity, Nat opened up Sunday afternoons as a all-ages period and we brought our kids to dance up a storm while we enjoyed a Beau's. Now our kids treasure the Elmdale as much as we do, even though they're not allowed in most of the time.

So my mixed feelings about the sale - all without really knowing the details of Bishop's plans for the place - have to do with grieving the loss of what has really become a special place for us and for the neighbourhood. Even if the Whalesbone guys are as open to holding events and fundraisers, the addition of a kitchen does offer less flexibility and I'm not sure it will feel as welcoming to the lower-income folk in the 'hood. I hope my worries turn out to be unwarranted, I really do. I just wish we could hear more from Bishop directly, not filtered through a columnist.

1050 Somerset Update

Miss Vicky Wed Oct 17, 2012

This just in from the Hintonburg Community Association:

On October 15, Claridge Homes, which is proposing to build a new 23-storey tower at 1050 Somerset, offered to settle our Ontario Municipal Board appeal of their project on the eve of the hearing.

The Board of Directors held a lengthy conference call that evening, and voted to accept the offer. The decision was not taken easily.

Our lawyer and HCA representatives negotiated through the day and evening on October 16. The terms of the settlement deal broadly with providing teacher parking for Devonshire, guaranteeing much-needed space for Devonshire's daycare, and changes to traffic flow to stop traffic exiting the building and driving south down the laneway.

We made further efforts throughout Monday, unsuccessfully, to also win concessions on the height and number of units in the development.

We have acted on the advice of our lawyer and planner, who after working on this case for several weeks, advised that we had a very low chance of winning a decrease in height or density at the OMB hearing as a result of late developments in the case. They have advised us that the combination of concessions being offered is very significant, and worth several million dollars.

Today, October 17, an agreed-to settlement was submitted to the OMB at our hearing. The remaining two-and-a-half days of hearings will not now be held.

We understand this is a disappointment to many of you who so generously supported us in taking the case this far. In the coming days, we'll have further details about the settlement, and why we took this difficult decision. The HCA, our lawyer, and our planner believe this is truly the best that we could obtain, and it represents a significant set of concessions by Claridge, although we could not get the height decreased.

Thank you for your support, and we look forward to continuing this discussion with you about development in our community.


Weekend Fun: Community Cleanup and beery rewards

Miss Vicky Wed Oct 10, 2012

Fall is awesome. But it sure is busy - packed full of community events, and new traditions seem to be added each year.

There is some fun stuff in the 'hood this weekend. You get to give back to your community, eat some burgers, sample some craft beer and tasty treats, and have your rock collection checked out by Real Government Scientists (apparently they still have some!).

Saturday morning is Hintonburg's annual Community Cleanup. Show up at the Community Centre any time between 9 and 10:30 to register and get your tickets. Bring along your gardening gloves, a rake or broom. Yard waste and garbage backs are provided. There'll be coffee from Cyclelogik (bring your own mug!) and the cleanup will be followed by a volunteer BBQ at Hintonburger at noon.

And if raking leaves you with a first - fret not, because Ottawa's first Brewery Market starts at noon at the future location of the Eddy Condos (formerly Wally Becker's garage). Like a farmer's market - but for beer! Admission is free; beer is $6 and there will be eats from Union 613, Hintonburger, Relish Food Truck and the Hintonburg Public House.

Sounds just fine to Miss Vicky, who's particularly excited about being able to try the new but not-yet-open neighbourhood brewery, Beyond the Pale. Also participating are Ashton, Beau's, Beyond the Pale, Big Rig, Broadhead, Cassel, Clocktower, HogsBack, Kichesippi & Mill Street.

And on Sunday, there will be plenty of scientific family fun at Natural Resource Canada's Booth Street complex, at their annual Science Fun Fest. We've always had fun at this event - plus, plenty of free maps and stuff to take home! Fair warning from the Webgeek: retirees have lots of questions about the rocks they find, so if you do bring your collection, be prepared for a wait.

Also, government scientists need some love, before Harper cuts them entirely.


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