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Locke Street South: The cost of doing business on Hamilton’s most popular block

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Locke Street South: The cost of doing business on Hamilton’s most popular block

For over a decade, Locke Street South has been the epitome of “the ambitious city”.

What was once a block limited to mostly churches and antique shops, Locke became a walker’s paradise with diverse cuisine and an assortment of shops. Factor in one of the city’s most historic parks, a selection of school offerings, and the area’s premier tennis club, and the area becomes Hamilton’s answer to, “I’m just visiting, where should I spend my Saturday afternoon?”

Success and popularity come at a cost, though. Is it worth it? I suppose it depends on who you ask.

Take a stroll up and down Locke between Main and Herkimer and you’ll see several commercial vacancies due to the three C’s: construction, COVID, and cost.

Locke Street was a victim of two unforeseen circumstances. The first being the construction apocalypse of 2019, where the street and sidewalks were decimated for most of March through November. As if that wasn’t enough, months later, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of all non-essential businesses.

Those two factors alone would be devastating for any business, but it hits even harder when you rely heavily on foot traffic and you’re paying for the luxuries of Locke.

Take, for example, 211 Locke St S. The church-turned-commercial space housed Brown Dog Coffee Shoppe for four years. But not even their world-famous apple fritters were enough to save Brown Dog from the 2019 construction-forced road shutdown as the location closed permanently a little over a year ago.

According to the City of Hamilton, the property at 211 is valued at $1.2-million and the property tax is assessed at $37,445.67 per year. Since 2018, the property tax for the old Brown Dog has gone up more than $3,200.

“The short and easiest answer to your question pertaining to challenges on Locke Street for small businesses and landlords is the outrageous property taxes imposed by the city,” said Ryan Furlong, the film and TV writer, director, and producer who owns 211 Locke St S.

“Even during a six month imposed [construction] shut down, the lack of property tax relief from the city, especially during a global pandemic, is asinine, unjustifiable and in no way a sign of being open to business.”

Ryan, and other business owners on Locke, expected more help from the city — particularly during the construction shutdown.

“The result of the construction shutdown amounted to an average street, with level paving and streetscaping one would find in any city, in any country, in any civilized part of the world,” added Ryan, whose Locke property also includes a parking lot.

“The taxes in Hamilton, specifically in the South West (for basic to below mediocre services) is astronomical in contrast to the rest of our country and even in much larger cities with superior public services.”

Property taxes in Hamilton are calculated by the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC). According to MPAC, “property taxes are calculated using the assessed value of the property and multiplying it by the combined municipal and education tax rates for your class of property.”

Renters on Locke can be paying anywhere from $20 to $40 per square foot. The old Brown Dog at 211 Locke boasts 3,400 square feet, which means you’re looking at more than $6,500 per month for base rent. You would need to sell a whole lotta apple fritters to cover $6,500 plus utilities, taxes, and operating costs.

Landlords, like Ryan Furlong, say they’re only trying to recoup their expenses.

“Because of the taxes imposed, property owners are forced to reduce or forfeit any profit (and often function with long term negative lease rates) simply to be able to reasonably recoup the $38,000 a year in taxes from their tenants.”

Setting up shop on Locke does provide businesses with a unique advantage, according to Judy Marsales.

The real estate mogul and former politician moved into her office at Locke and Herkimer back in 2007 — when the block was on the cusp of what it is today.

“Locke Street has a real warmth of community that seems to overcome a lot of adversity,” said the owner of Judy Marseles Real Estate Ltd. Brokerage.

Judy pointed to the successful “7 Saturdays” event as an example where the Locke Street BIA organized a weekly event that ran through August and into September. The street was closed from Main to Herkimer for seven consecutive Saturday’s and businesses were able to utilize the road as a way to expand and promote their services. 

And people showed up in sporadic droves and supported the local businesses.

Perhaps there is no greater example of Hamilton’s love of Locke than what happened in 2018 after a group of self-proclaimed anarchists marched down Locke, peppering storefronts with rocks and smashing windows in a failed attempt to “stick it to the man” and protest gentrification.

Not only did the local businesses survive — they thrived. 

A week after the incident, which caused an estimated $100,000 in damage, MPP for Hamilton Centre and Ontario NDP leader, Andrea Horwath dubbed Saturday, March 10, 2018 #LoveLockeDay. She called for people to come together to support the businesses on Locke Street, and the people did just that. 

In fact, there were some groans from businesses in other areas of the city who were also victims of vandalism from the same group that attacked Locke. Only they didn’t receive anywhere near the same level of support. There certainly weren’t any politicians starting a #LoveBartonDay movement.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens as businesses recover post-COVID lockdown. Rumour has it that the old NaRoma location at 215 Locke St S will soon have a new tenant, and as of Sept. 22, there is a “sold” sign on the old Locke St. Meats & Deli — which has been closed since 2017.

Judy Marsales says “Locke Street has a support system like no other”, and she’s right. I mean, I could have written about the trials and tribulations of businesses on any street in Hamilton, but I chose Locke.

(Photo credit: Anthony Urciuoli/Quickbite News)

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