By ROB JOHNSON
Slowly and without fanfare, there has been an injection of new life in Ladysmith’s downtown core. Many heritage buildings, especially in the 500 block of First Avenue, have been undergoing improvements, revitalizing the buildings.
One of the most noticeable examples of this is the transformation of what was the Vacuum/Scooter shop at 530 First Avenue. Soon, this site will be opening as Zack’s Lounge. This 110-year-old building, originally a butcher shop, was in need of a major revitalization. Dan Zacharias, the building’s owner, has been revitalizing the premises for over a year, bringing it up to today’s building code. As a result, the renovated building has been given another lease on life. Once the renovations are completed, it will become a heritage building where residents of Ladysmith and visitors will be able to enjoy a drink and a light meal around its fireplace and heritage-looking bar.
Zack’s Place is not the only downtown building that is presently undergoing a revitalization. The J. Cochrane building, which has also been home to many different businesses, including Shop Easy that morphed into Cochrane’s Market, then into to Mainwaring’s Ladies Wear, and then Uncle Walter’s Emporium before becoming the present Worldly Gourmet. Today, the owners of the store and the building, Kamal and Therese Saab, are upgrading the building’s wiring and plumbing. They are also designing living accommodations. Their plans to live above the building and give the building a combined commercial and residential look will help create a feeling of community, as the building will reflect a warmer residential influence in the downtown core.
Other buildings that have been recently renovated include the Pemberton Holmes Realty at 530 First Ave. This building has a rich history that has housed numerous businesses over the years. One thing that makes this building stand out from a historical point of view is that it was shifted over from its original location by Mr. Cochrane, who owned what is now the Cochrane Building next door. Mr. Cochrane wanted to expand his business from what is now half of the present Cochrane building, so he purchased what is now housing Pemberton Reality and had it moved one lot to his left, creating a space for him to expand his building and doubling his floor area.
The building’s new owners have taken up residence in a newly renovated apartment above the commercial building below. Again, by taking up residence above their building, the owners are bringing more life to the downtown core. The commercial space has also been given new life as it too has had major upgrades in both electrical and plumbing, reassuring that it will be around for decades to come.
Most of us have been into the Old Town Bakery in the last year and have seen the new renovations. This new look and space will contribute to the continuing success of one of the town’s best-known businesses. This investment and the owner’s additional investment in their other store, the Wild Poppy, are key drivers in the renaissance of the downtown core. It is this type of reinvestment in the downtown that is making Ladysmith a desirable place to live and visit.
Another business owner who has taken on the challenge of revitalizing the building they own is Left Coast Fashions Tamara Stone. Her plans include a revamp to her commercial space and eventually a redesign and renovation of rental suites that will bring more residents to our downtown area. Luke Kolk, owner of what is best known as the Ladysmith Trading Company Building, has created both an attractive commercial space that, because of its upgrades, will be around for years to come. He has also created attractive and affordable apartments above the commercial space below, which, again, will bring more people to live in our downtown core. Recently, the renovated Home Hardware on High Street, which was empty for a couple of years, has become the Fox and Hounds, a pub-style restaurant. It has become a reason for many to come downtown, both during the day and evenings.
A lot of activity is happening downtown, and one reason is that we are attracting more people to come and live downtown. At least four building owners of the 500 block of First Avenue are taking up residence above their building or are providing rental housing downtown. They enjoy the quality of lifestyle that living in a heritage downtown offers and know that others will too.