Retailers bet on Downtown Kingston revival

By Shamille Scott Business reporter

Wednesday, August 29, 2012    

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The sound of hammers banging in empty buildings doesn't bother the business owners on Harbour Street in downtown Kingston.

Quite the opposite. Renovation and redevelopment work under way on the block - the workmen said at least one of the five units was to be a fashion outlet - has helped to boost their business.

It is a sign of great things to come, said Natalie Blair, the owner of D-Connection Cellphones and Accessories, who is looking forward to the new stores, attracting customers to the area.

"Downtown is slowly reclaiming the title as the commercial hub of Kingston," she said.

The push to redevelop the historic centre of the country's capital is on the verge of a quantum leap with the imminent completion of Digicel's new headquarters.

Property owners throughout the city centre are thinking about upgrading facilities to meet the influx of well-heeled office workers.

And that's all good news for the retailers.

Until recently, few businesses operated on the stretch of Harbour Street, which leads motorist and pedestrians between Princess and Orange, two blocks to the east.

Judith's Footwear and Clothing is one of the new arrivals. The store's owner, who wants to be identified only as Judith, said the renovation on the street isn't a problem for her business.

"Traffic is here, the JUTC bus stops a few metres from the store, so I get some customers," she said. "I just want the place to be developed so shoppers will not only go to Orange Street and Princess Street".

Drivers passing the new stores on the street sometimes circle round to have a second look, she said.

Though Judith does not have a sign at the store entrance, the mannequin and knapsacks placed at the doorway do the trick.

Inside, she sells dresses, blouses, women's shoes and slippers, handbags and men's shoes. Judith, who started off as a higgler 10 years ago, said her business is a journey. She currently employs one worker.

One of the latest arrivals, opening just last Saturday, is the cell phone repair shop, which unlocks phones and sells accessories. "Digicel is helping to bring downtown back to life," says its owner, Blair.

The mobile phone giant's new headquarters, which looks down on Harbour Street, is one of the major construction projects that have been completed as part of area's redevelopment.

NEM Insurance, GraceKennedy and the Scotiabank are among the companies that have invested in the redevelopment of downtown Kingston.

Karen McDonald isn't in quite the same league, but she was one of the first retailers on this stretch of Harbour, operating Karen's Blessing Fashion there for almost two years.

Some customers want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the main shopping areas, so putting her business on secluded Harbour Street was ideal.

Judith shares her customers with Tastee, D-Connection Cellphones and Accessories and Karen's Blessing Fashions.

Many people stop at Tastees for a bite, and then take a look in my store, she said. The new car park associated with the Digicel headquarters is also convenient for her store.

Digicel collaborated with the Urban Development Corporation to get investments in the planning agency's Northern Car Park Project, which will accommodate 800 vehicles, most of which will belong to the 1,200 Digicel employees who will be relocated to downtown Kingston.



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