What Does Downtown Oakville Need to Thrive Again?


For the most part, we live in a 9-to-5 world so it makes sense that these are the common hours of operation for many businesses in the Halton Region. However, if everyone is living on a 9-to-5 basis that means there is likely to be some conflict. How can residents visit stores that are only open 9-to-5 if those same residents are working during those same hours? This seems to be a question many people in Oakville are asking.

The idea of different hours of operations was just one of the many suggestions brought up in a previous inhalton article that looked at the state of downtown Oakville. The article posed a big question: 'is downtown Oakville dying or thriving'? And for a few different reasons, including businesses hours of operation, it was suggested that the town's downtown was in fact dying.

It's been over a year since that article was published, and residents seem to still agree that something needs to change for downtown Oakville to thrive.

When inhalton asked 'what do you think downtown Oakville needs in order to thrive?' on Instagram, many people replied with variations of the same ideas - different hours of operation and lower rent. 

"Stores on Lakeshore [should] stay open past 6 or 7," one Instagram user replied. "They complain they don't do well but they close when everyone is home from work and may want to shop."

However, when inhalton reached out to Oakville Mayor Rob Burton regarding rent and hours of operation he noted that, "Rents are a result of a free market" and, "Businesses set their own hours."

With that said, the town is still working to revitalize its downtown area. In fact, the town is investing $20 million to do so. As part of the revitalization, Oakville's Lakeshore Road reconstruction and streetscape project is currently underway.

The completed reconstruction project, as mentioned in a previous article, will include enhanced roadways, tree-lined boulevards, beautified streets, and improved pedestrian and cycleways, increasing accessibility, mobility, and connectivity.

But that's not all.

"The flexible design will facilitate access for special events and festivals," reads a previous press release from the town. "A two-metre marking zone in front of each storefront will enable restaurants and retailers to use street space as part of their downtown presence. In addition, new traditional streetscape furnishings (streetlights, benches, bike rings and bollards) will maintain the character of the main street."

In addition, smart city elements, such as public Wi-Fi, people counters, electric charging stations, and more, will be integrated into the project.

This project will be completed in two phases over a two-year period, and, along with other aspects and improvements, is something that the Downtown Oakville Business Improvement Area (BIA) is excited about.

"We are all excited to see the new streetscape and enjoy the benefits it will bring including increased pedestrian friendliness, greater patio space, and a redesigned towne square, the community’s favourite gathering place," Sharlene Plewman, Executive Director Downtown Oakville BIA, said via email. "We are grateful for the outpouring of support we have seen from the community, with the emphasis we’ve seen placed on shopping & dining locally and the visitors that have come downtown regardless of the roadwork."

Plewman continued to explain how she feels about the current state of downtown Oakville.

"I believe that downtown Oakville is thriving," Plewman said. "Despite the challenges that the current revitalization project is creating, we are pleased to see businesses here celebrating milestones, from one-year anniversaries all the way through to 65th year celebrations. We have welcomed several new stores, lowering our vacancy rate compared to this time last year."

Along with the reconstruction project, the town has also introduced a variety of programs in order to help businesses thrive.

According to Gisele Shaw, Manager, Corporate Communications, these programs include the digital main street program - a program that works to help main street businesses improve their online presence, a working partnership with Skip the Dishes, along with council approving a parking program to attract residents and visitors during the reconstruction.

Inhalton also reached out to several businesses regarding the current state of downtown Oakville.

"It is a difficult time to comment, as we are in the middle of the downtown revitalization process with Lakeshore Road closed to vehicular traffic," Kevin Ker, of COBS Bread Lakeshore, said via email. "We have appreciated the loyal support of our community who continue to shop with us during this transition.

"We are thrilled with what the future holds with a brand-new streetscape design," Ker continued. "This will attract new long-term tenants into downtown. The larger boulevards will ensure storefronts to flourish and allow pedestrians to enjoy downtown Oakville."

There is currently a lot of action happening on Lakeshore Road with the reconstruction project. And with that said, it's hard to truly identify whether downtown Oakville is currently thriving or dying.

However, is it safe to safe the town is confident, business owners are hopeful, and residents are wary of the future of downtown?

Cover photo is courtesy of the Oakville Downtown (@OakvilleDwtown) Twitter account.

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