I have been a business owner in the Warehouse District of Lethbridge for just over 4 years now. My company, [Theoretically] Brewing Company, started in 2015 in a sloppy little 1930s farm-equipment repair shop that hadn't really been touched renovation-wise (at least on the exterior) since the mid '80s. When we were looking for a spot we needed ample floor space for brewing, bay doors for shipping, and a retail space in the front that could be converted relatively easy into an event and tasting space. As a start-up, we needed all that for relatively cheap.
Our little warehouse wound up with it all, and now even boasts a patio and fenced parking lot capable of large outdoor events. We are steadily becoming a "Third Place" in the community -- a space for friends and family to spend time in a relaxed atmosphere without the pressure of spending a lot of money. We are dog friendly, we are kid friendly, we are community-friendly and take a great amount of pride in our little piece of Lethbridge.
The Warehouse District, we believe, is on the verge of a metamorphosis. In 2018, a Supervised Consumption Site opened 4 blocks from us in an old night-club location. Lethbridge, like much of North America is going through an extreme drug addiction problem, and our city lacks the facilities to offer those vulnerable populations the services they need to survive.
Myself, my business partner, and my business have all come out in support of the Supervised Consumption Services, so we aren't really here to talk about that today. I only mention it to give you an idea of the current landscape of our neighbourhood.
We are located just outside the Downtown Core, and on the wrong side of Stafford Drive to benefit from any of the intensive programs downtown businesses have access to through their Business Revitalization Zone (BRZ) Organization. Our area, which stretches from Stafford to Mayor Magrath, and encompasses everything along 1st Avenue to 6th Avenue and is a mix of retail commercial, light industrial, services, and residential, is home to over 400 locally-owned and operated businesses and agencies. We have within our area some spectacular preserved commercial and industrial buildings from the mid-'50s and some as early as the 1920s. (Ours doesn't qualify as preserved, just old).
In any other city, this district would be the artsy, unique, "hipster" district you can identify with the Inglewood/Ramsay district of Calgary, or the Ritchie/Old Strathcona districts of Edmonton. Businesses have existed here since Lethbridge first began, and a quick walking tour of the area proves the historical relevance of some of the beautiful brick and limestone structures.
Like, look at that! It's glorious! (It is also fabulously restored on the inside and is home to incredible co-working spaces and open floor plans, check it out if you are in the area!)
The thing is that business in our Warehouse District (our li'l slice o'Lethbridge) is....stale. There are businesses like us who are growing slowly (yay!) because we are putting in a F***tonne of effort getting our community to think about us and take the time to visit, and there are businesses who have existed here for a long time that are going through some of the worst years of their existence.
Now, there are a number of reasons for this, and not all of them have to do with the aforementioned SCS despite what some folks will tell you. We recognize that businesses closer to the site are having FAR more issues than we are currently experiencing, but overall this district has been in distress long before now. Despite such bonuses as ample and free parking, a massive selection of local businesses and retail shops, entertainment, food, coffee, and beer, this area is woefully underutilized.
Walkability-wise we are bordered on 3 sides by huge residential sectors of Lethbridge: Upper Victoria Park, Westminster, London Road, and more! That 4th side is the Downtown Core itself. Despite this, there is very little foot traffic, and those folks who are walking around are generally not going into high-end coffee shops and micro-breweries. The neighbourhood here is bland: blank walls, grey buildings, shitty crosswalks and roads. Very few businesses have bicycle accommodations, very few have interesting or colourful storefronts. It's all just very....blah.
So we are working to change that!
I'm excited about the potential of this neighbourhood and am trying to get local business owners together to start painting murals on their buildings, bringing colour and art into the space. Getting busy business owners and managers on board with this has proven....difficult....but I'm nothing if not tenacious.
So to you, my friends reading this and hopefully some strangers who stumbled across this blog I have a request: come and explore the Warehouse District. It's cooler than you think, with neat little shops like Purple Carrot, The Yellow Door, The Hotwire Panini, Sonder Coffee, Cupper's Coffee, Bert & Mac's, and the Grey Goat! Lots to explore and walk around, and it is a hidden gem in the city!