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Pembroke business owners hoping for new neighbours as empty storefronts dot downtown

All along Pembroke’s downtown, abandoned and boarded up storefronts can be found on both sides of the main road.

It’s a frustrating reality for businesses including Loaf Artisan Bakery, which neighbours an old run-down movie theatre on Pembroke Street West.

“It’s probably the worst thing downtown,” said bakery owner Sebastian Zuniga-Contreras.

After opening in April 2022, Loaf has seen steady foot traffic in and out of its cafe and bakery.

But Zuniga-Contreras believes business would rise – just like his bread – if a thriving neighbour moved in next door.

“I believe it does hurt us because it’s not the prettiest thing in the world. Part of coming through downtown is the look and if it doesn’t look nice, nobody wants to be around it,” he said.

It’s an issue the Downtown Pembroke BIA isn’t blind to. Executive director Bethea Summers says while stores downtown are shutting down, new ventures are not moving in despite the vacancies.

“I think inflation, rising interest rates and all of those factors are playing in on affecting people’s spending habits,” Summers told CTV News Ottawa.

“And maybe they’re not spending as much or they’re a little bit more cautious about opening a business because they’re going to have to get a loan or get financial aid.”

Window shopping is also made difficult for buyers when windows are left empty.

“It is a little bit desolate,” said Brodie O’Connor, who was joined by a group of friends on a shopping trip to Pembroke.

“But then there’s these great stores in between, and you’ve got to support them.”

On Friday, Pembroke’s newest business, Cyndy-Lou Boutique, opened in the city’s West End Mall.

The new store’s owner, Lucie Marion, said she chose her mall location due to the fact that rent and expenses were cheaper and the surrounding businesses were always open.

“It is worrisome,” said the children’s boutique owner on the expenses of opening a brick and mortar location.

“I think any business nowadays that starts has to think about that.”

Summers says the BIA works with property owners to find the right fits for each store front and adds the city has a fund to help spruce up tired looking exteriors.

She’s hoping the upcoming holidays will reignite interest in the city’s downtown strip.

“Coming into Christmas, that’ll be the big telltale sign as to how shopping habits are changing or not changing.”

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