Years ago, the Elmira Shopping Village – back when it was Brox’s Olde Town Village – drew people by the busload to browse its shops and enjoy a meal in the restaurant.
Over the years, the two dozen tenants have dwindled to a handful. New owner Michele Khandelwal of Varcan Property Management plans to spruce up the Church Street building, fill it with tenants and make it a draw for Elmira once more.
Khandelwal plans to turn the upper floor into office spaces for an insurance agent, lawyer, accountant or other financial services. The ground floor is virtually full, with three anchor tenants: Schelter Office Pro, Woolwich Total Health Pharmacy, and the Village Pet Shoppe.
The biggest transformation will occur on the lower level, where Khandelwal envisions a central hallway designed like the main street of a village, with shop windows and storefronts in different colours. The lower level is already equipped with kitchen facilities from the days when it played host to a bar and restaurant, and Khandelwal thinks the space is perfect for a bakery.
“We’d love to get little retail shops down here,” she said.
This is the third commercial property that Khandelwal has bought with the intention of refurbishing and attracting new tenants. She first tried her hand at property management nine years ago, soon after the first of her three children was born. She and her husband bought a student house in Waterloo, and Khandelwal discovered that property management allowed her to balance family and career. She bought a few more student houses and expanded from there into residential and commercial properties.
Khandelwal’s degree in actuarial science wasn’t a lot of help in her new venture; learning to manage properties has been something of a trial-and-error process.
“When we first started, we had no clue,” she chuckled.
Khandelwal has discovered that she prefers commercial properties, and she’s had some success in that line. Last year she bought a building in Kitchener and was able to bring it from 30 per cent occupancy up to 100 per cent.
“We buy a place that needs tender loving care, bring it up, fill it up with tenants and make it a success.”
In the two months that she has owned the Elmira Shopping Village, Khandelwal has given the exterior a facelift: fresh paint on the doors and benches, new landscaping and hanging flower baskets. Work on the interior is now underway, with the public washrooms redone and the basement under renovation.
Now Khandelwal and her assistant Diana Briand are making a concerted effort to find tenants to fill the 20,000-square-foot building, which is divided into spaces ranging from 300 to 2,000 square feet.
Reflecting the mix of commercial and retail uses they’d like to see in the building, the name is changing from Elmira Shopping Village to the Village Shoppes and Business Centre.
Khandelwal said they’re focused on finding businesses that have something to offer to residents of Elmira, and she’s relying on Briand, who grew up in the area.
“We don’t want to make this place just a tourist attraction. We don’t want it to become St. Jacobs.”
The rest of Varcan’s properties are in Kitchener-Waterloo, and Khandelwal explained that it was the potential for growth and the possibilities they could see in the building that drew them to Elmira.
“All of our places are about 10 minutes from where I live. We’ve made an exception for Elmira – it’s 15 minutes.”