AGH Comes to James St North!

First off congrats to AGH executive-director Louise Dompierre and the AGH in general for attaching itself to something outside it self and join the ever increasingly successful James St/Artcrawl scene. As the spec and others have stated recently…

“The gallery announced Thursday it is opening additional digs on James in the spring to house a second AGH store, and another exhibit, events or community room.

“It’s probably the biggest retail store to open in decades on James Street North,” said Tim Potocic, co-owner of 118 James St. N., the renovated building where the AGH will take up 5,000 square feet on the street level.”

(Also congrats to Tim Potocic for resisting the urge to fill his space with just another Money Mart  its sadly rare when people with means resists the urge to go make money at any price.) My only concern for the AGH’s move is the potential to crush the local business/art institutions. Its interesting that the specatator’s main message of their article wasn’t about artists or institutions or even businesses it was about people living downtown? While I’m all for this I’m not for James turning into another Locke St. If the AGH was smarter it would have done a blue banana/ agh store in their making it a pusher of local talent, think the recent Honey Bee collective sale on a more perminant basis. Or even something like a visiting artist apartment space in the area. Just imagine if the AGH sponsored one or two international artists to live in Hamilton for a year to work?–art-sophistication-comes-to-james-street-north


One thought on “AGH Comes to James St North!

  1. Mike Collins

    Who is the AGH’s demographic and target market and where do they currently live and spend their money? My guess, for what it’s worth, is Burlington, South-West, West Hamilton, Ancaster, Dundas…at least for the most part.

    Don’t get me wrong I love what business minded individuals and up and comers have done with the cheap rent and hipster demographic offered on James: like The Mulberry Cafe, This Ain’t Hollywood, and The Brain… but do these places exhibit a strong business case for a store selling Castor Designs newest Wood Carved Lamp for $2,500?

    Unfortunately James – as is the case with all of downtown – is ripe with vagrants that are unfortunately “scary” (who knows why but I hear it from people all the time…) to the regular profile of an AGH client…the reality is…especially in these trying financial times…James and downtown are still a decade away from seeing any major middle class to upper middle class shoppers / residents of a critical mass flocking anywhere downtown Hamilton. I’m wondering, will the AGH name all of a sudden blast a rainbow out of the sky and attract a critical mass of the middle to upper middle class population over 40 years old and guide them down to James…hmmm…Not unless it’s Art Crawl (if they’re lucky).

    As a public funded entity I’m more than a bit concerned, since I’m an art loving tax payer I do expect that the AGH is making business minded decisions that will result in sustainable moves NOT altruistic moves on my tax dollar that benefit landowners (almost exclusively)…I want downtown to flourish and I want there to be Art, and I want the business of art to be sustained so that industry in Hamilton can grow and prosper. This means residents need to be spending money on art…Where is the best location for that application in Hamilton? Can anyone answer?

    I don’t want my city / province / federal government to finance property developments under the guise of retail & event applications when anyone can see that the AGH client base (mostly people with money and educations from areas not in the downtown core) don’t shop or spend time downtown ever…. Reaching out into the community could have meant penetrating deep into their target demographic…Not a few blocks away from a failing multi-million dollar business that seems pretty lonely as it is. Doesn’t it make sense to let big CORPORATIONS and start ups with $$$ make the moves and develop downtown – isn’t this what has made James so appealing so far?…not publicly funded organizations barely surviving on provincial, federal, and private money who are clearly throwing caution to the wind at the expense of good business decisions.

    The James North business owner may argue my point…but it’s natural to be protective. Still, the fact remains that money goes where big corporations go…Chapters, Starbucks, Apple, high end design shops, or any retailer that have proven themselves to have done their homework are not visible downtown…anywhere…not even on James. So I guess the AGH didn’t really ask themselves where the promising areas are for expansion…where are our demographic sneaking around and spending their money?? Are sales breaking records on James? Is a new apple store moving in on James? I could understand if Starbucks moved into the hood – they do their market research…everyone knows that. Like it or not, it is the Starbucks demographic who will spend the money on art, money the AGH will desperately need to sustain themselves now that they have a NEW lease, new capital improvements to finance, new staff to implement, operational costs, all this while they develop a private groups real estate investment by coughing up dough to increase the value of an otherwise shell of a building in an area that is miles away (in every direction) from their demographic and, if that weren’t putting stress on a not-for-profit group, they’re doing all of this while they try to run…drum roll please…yup, you got it…THE ART GALLERY OF HAMILTON.

    If this project fails to live up to its promise and profit (just read the Financial Times and tell me if the outlook on poor up and coming neighborhoods looks good) who will benefit? Not the tax payers who will have to cough up more funding to sustain a money losing business, and certainly not that giant new building a few blocks away that is the actual Art Gallery of Hamilton…Well, then who gains? Ahhh the landlords. If it were in the right business area I’d say good move, good chance of profit, exposure in the right neighborhood, and a well though out idea! And it could very likely be a profitable business…but this is not.

    Finally, and not trying to pick at straws but these things are pretty serious…I assume the business decision took into account the safety of their loyal clients. What do I mean? Well, only three years ago one of the cities most violent acts took place on James North only a stones throw away from 118 James, a drive-by shooting at Acclamations Restaurant riddled the restaurant with bullets – luckily nobody was hurt. It was a horrible thing for our community and for the family who established a great restaurant on the street long before it became hip. Only three blocks north from the AGH’s prestigious new venture on James, a place called Zucca Bar was shut down in spring of 2010 for selling crack-cocaine, firearms, and alcohol to minors. At the same corner as the Zucca Bar and along Canon Street, Robert Street, and Barton Street connecting James Street to the east, prostitutes stumble around, massage parlors line the street and Hamilton’s major strip club connects the next major artery onto James. All over James Street and the surrounding area vagrancy and property neglect are still major problems…Perfect backdrop for a high-end retail destination for the families of the rich and prosperous? Who thought? Expose the AGH brand to crack, guns, shootings, vagrants, and hookers…but there is still the great places (and I mean it, like Acclamations, The Brain, Mulberry, Gate of India, Ventura’s, White Elephant, etc…) Personally the AGH had a bit more allure to me before I associated it with guns, crack, hookers, handjobs, and drive-by shootings.

    In my most professional and objective opinion (maybe also in the opinion of other corporate retailers) this is not the place that will elicit the interest of high end consumers nor will it entice high profile events. I suspect that James North is about a decade away from reaching that demographic and at least 20 years away from catching up to the other areas noted above like King Street, Westdale, Locke, and Dundas…particularly in such trying economic times – a gamble on a long shot (and James is in fact a long shot for retail based business) is not the way to play with public money nor to service your loyal clients in an appealing, exciting, and safe environment.

    My opinion.

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