It has been 11 years since the Barn at York and Hess Streets was closed, depriving Hamilton of its last downtown grocery store. Observers at the time saw the move as the kiss of death for a downtown that had struggled to stay commercially viable in the wake of suburban shopping malls and big-box complexes. So there is understandable excitement that Nations Fresh Foods will open a 55,000 square foot full service grocery store in Jackson Square in May. Nations is an upscale offshoot of the Oceans Fresh Group with operates three stores in the GTA. The Hamilton Nations Store will the second opening after the first store was opened amid much fanfare last August in Vaughan.
Described in Canadian Grocer Magazine as “ a high end designer concept store,” Nations is looking to cater to all “nations”, including European, Middle Eastern, Caribbean and Asian customers.“We don’t have a competitor,” said Nation’s Vaughan store manager Ken Zhen. “We serve both old and new immigrants.” Its expected the same concept will apply in Hamilton, where in a addition to all of the basic grocery staples, shoppers will be able to experience foods, meat, fish and produce from around the world. Jackson Square manager Scott Kyle, says the Hamilton store will feature a 1,000 square foot fresh fish room, an on-site bakery and an in-store cafe.
The arrival of Nations is good news for Jackson Square which struggled for years from the shift in Canadian urban shopping patterns, seeing what had started out as a high fashion mall become one dominated by lower-end retail. Yale properties, owners of Jackson Square continued to invest in the property through the bad years, rebuilding the food court and sprucing up the exterior. Scott Kyle says Nations makes sense economically in 2013 because of the amount of condo development that has taken place in the last year coupled with more than 1,100 new units that are either under construction or on their way. “it is probably the most active period of construction we’ve seen since the 1970’s,” he notes. “There seems to be a renewed sense of enthusiasm and hope, in the downtown.” He points to developments like the new health campus, hotel and condo developments by Vrancor, and the resurgence of James Street North as signs that the tide has turned.
There is another reason Nations is good news for Jackson Square. Since the announcement of its arrival, potential tenants are starting to take another look at Jackson Square. Buffalo’s legendary Anchor Bar, (reputed to be where chicken wings got their start) announced it intention to occupy the Old Walt’s Beanery site in Jackson Square. “We’re getting a lot of interesting inquiries about the property,” says Scott, “the future looks bright.”