Kensington ramps up its cool factor

Annie MacInnis on how the shopping district is growing and maturing as it adds housing and continues to punch above its weight class

Annie MacInnis is executive director of the Kensington Business Revitalization Zone.

Annie MacInnis

You’re talking to prospective businesses thinking of establishing a presence in Kensington. What would you tell them are the key reasons they should?

MacInnis: Locating your business within a business improvement area (BIA) is a great idea because the businesses work collectively and collaboratively to promote and to beautify the business district so that people want to come to the area to live, to work, to own a business, to shop and to access services.

Although we’ve lost some Kensington businesses in this downturn, we’ve gained more than twice the number we’ve lost. So Kensington is thriving and empty premises don’t stay empty for long.

When you locate your business in a BIA, you’re not alone to try to solve all your problems. BIAs typically have a paid executive director, like me, who can advise businesses who, for example, are encountering challenges getting a city permit or understanding a bylaw, or dealing with social disorder. If I can’t help you with your problem, I can usually pass you on to the person who can.

Many BIAs offer their member business capacity building and networking events so you get to build relationships with other businesses owners and support each other.

BIAs also look after the big picture for the business district through advocacy on behalf of the district to the city for policy development or during construction.

What are the biggest issues and challenges facing the neighbourhood?

MacInnis: Kensington is changing as the population increases with many new condo and townhouse buildings. More people living locally helps the business district thrive. So new buildings and more residents is good from a BIA perspective.

The challenge is to support our existing businesses, many of them small independents, to ensure they not only survive but prosper, as well as welcoming new businesses and new customers.

Creating a business community where businesses support each other through cross-marketing and promoting each other and where residents feel loyalty to and support their local business district takes work and commitment.

What changes do you foresee in Kensington in the coming years?

MacInnis: A few years ago, the BIA in Kensington advocated for funding to replace the crumbling public realm. We have nice sidewalks, new streetlights and street furniture.

Now that the ‘bones’ are fixed, we’re accessorizing and decorating. We’re activating narrow alleyways between buildings with lighting and artwork, we’re working on acquiring more art, especially interactive art. Creating a place where scattered amongst our 275 businesses and services there are murals and art to delight and surprise, places to sit and people watch, safe walking and cycling and, of course, great shopping, dining and services is our vision.

We’ve gotten a good part of the way there but we’re not resting our our laurels. Stay tuned for more cool additions to Kensington’s already cool factor.

Is there any type of business you would like to see in Kensington that’s not already there?

MacInnis: I’d love to see a spice store but overall Kensington has a well balanced and eclectic mix of businesses and services.

Kensington also has a good reputation outside Calgary. We’ve won international awards for some of our projects and have presented papers on that work at international conferences in Ottawa and New York City. Last year, the San Francisco Chronicle and online National Geographic both mentioned Kensington and Car-To-Go made its first Calgary appearance in Kensington some years back after we invited them to Sun and Salsa.

We’re pretty proud of how far above our weight class little Kensington punches.

Can you explain what the role of the BRZ is?

MacInnis: At the very most basic level, my job is to promote and to beautify Kensington. More formally, my job is to advocate, to promote and to create a vibrant commercial area where community and business flourish.

Every work day, I strive for more and new ways to encourage people to want to come to Kensington because there are so many great businesses and services, and it’s a fun and interesting and welcoming place to spend time.

– Mario Toneguzzi

kensington business district

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