Brainstorming session eyes downtown needs

Source: North Bay Nugget | Dec 13, 2019

← Back to project

What type of business does downtown North Bay need?

And what would work best with the existing businesses in that area?

Those were among the questions Rod Bilz posed to about a dozen people Thursday night at the former Pearl’s as he seeks a tenant for the building.

“I want to take the best idea and put a solid foundation behind” the future of the building, Bilz said. “What is needed? What will be supported? I want to seek out a tenant that will work for the space.”

The key, he said, is to find something that will complement the existing businesses.

One suggestion put forward was “something that will keep the downtown going after hours,” one of the four groups that brainstormed ideas suggested.

The proposal was for a lounge on the ground floor and office space on the upper floor. That, participants said, will keep the building going all day, from 8 a.m. when the business tenants come in until 11 p.m. when the lounge closes for the night.

Another suggestion put forward was for a multi-use centre, offering everything from retail to a community learning centre for activities such as learning how to fix your own bicycle.

One idea that got a lot of traction was for a refilling station, a small retail outlet where people can live a greener life by bringing in their own containers and purchasing things like shampoo or detergent to fill them.

That type of concept, Bilz said, works well with other businesses in the area, particularly with a growing emphasis on getting away from single-use products like containers.

“People want to get away from single-use plastics,” Liza Vandermeer said. “They want to bring in their own containers and fill them up with what they need.”

She said that business model is working in other communities, including Sudbury, and there should be enough of a population base and interest for it to work in North Bay, as well.

“We’ve got a pretty big hinterland here,” Vandermeer said. “There is nothing else like that in this part of northeastern Ontario.”

The proposal received enthusiastic backing from Katie Bevan, owner of The FARM and vice-chair of the Downtown Improvement Area.

It’s not only better for the environment, she said, it is “so much more affordable” than purchasing the items at big box stores.

“I think this was awesome,” Bevan said of the session, saying it showed participants that “we are all in this together.

“We have our own businesses, and it’s nice” for a newcomer to poll downtown people about what they would like to see.

“We can only get better and stronger” by working together, she said.

“This is a bottom-up approach,” Mary Ann Johnson said. “I think that’s beneficial to any endeavour.”