It may be the middle of winter, but Kelowna’s downtown core is far from hibernating. While all corners of our growing community hold an appeal, there is something special and unique about the city center. There is a buzz, energy, and a tangible zeitgeist that is no longer limited to the sunshine infused days of summer. There’s also construction, the obvious indicator of growth. As the new kid on the block, adjacent business owners have received the Innovation Centre as a welcome addition to Ellis Street. While the building moves toward spring completion, the community and neighbouring businesses share their thoughts about the growth of our city and predictions for the future impact of the Centre.
It’s hard to go hungry if you find yourself on Ellis Street, thanks in large part to Luigi Coccaro. A member of the family who founded La Bussola, Coccaro went on to open the neighboring Curious Café in November 2014. The Curious offers classic comfort food delivered to community-style tables scattered throughout the eatery. The opening of the Innovation Centre will mark a milestone for Coccaro – the opening of his family’s third restaurant. Housed in the southeast corner of the Innovation Centre, this new venture, aptly named Gather, will feature Korean and Italian influences, though Coccaro is quick to point out it’s not fusion. Delving further, he explains, “the whole restaurant gets built in Italy and shipped here. There will be a grab-and-go aspect. A little quicker than the sit down service at The Curious. It will be a little bit more tech savvy. If we can, we’ll have people ordering on their phones.”
Born and raised in Kelowna, Coccaro has seen first-hand how the city has evolved: “When we graduated from high school before, we all left, similar to what older people do here in the winter. The tech companies that are moving into the Innovation Centre are all in this vicinity right now. You’re seeing them support the businesses year-round, which makes the tourist season not the biggest deal.” He foresaw years ago that Ellis was a developing corridor and notes his appreciation for the densification that has occurred there as diverse entrepreneurs made their mark. They say third time’s a charm, but with his family’s proven track record, Coccaro’s third restaurant venture need not rely on luck.
For the past 2 years, Kate Morgan has held a front row seat to the construction of the Innovation Centre. As the owner and operator of Posh Jewelry, Morgan can view the building as she busies herself amongst glass cases filled with eye-catching stones and precious metals. Her childhood passion for collecting rocks may have been an early indicator of her future calling, one she has answered for the past 15 years. Having moved her store downtown in 2010, Morgan enthuses that she, “bought this retail space, that’s how invested I am in downtown and in this area. I knew it was going to be the place to be.” Having witnessed a number of changes to Ellis over the years, she gestures first to the left and then to the right, exclaiming, “that was a parking lot and this was grass…it’s changed ten-fold.” Eagerly anticipating the opening of the Innovation Centre and the increased traffic it could bring her way, Morgan expresses gratitude for her clients and community who “know it’s important to support small business. People understand that if they don’t, we won’t be able to stay here.”
If you’re in a hurry, you might miss the narrow entry that leads to the Bike Shop Café & Catering Co. Just a short walk from the Innovation Centre, spouses and co-owners Darren and Kim Ansley opened this downtown location almost 10 years ago. Since 2008, Darren can attest that Ellis has shifted from a “sleepy industrial area into a high density, business, residential, and cultural district. At the forefront of that evolution is the development of a vibrant tech sector that seems to bring a younger, knowledge-based group of people who really have brought a great energy to the area.” Serving up an award-winning menu and specialty drinks crafted from fresh local ingredients, the Bike Shop has established a loyal customer following. Reflecting on the impending opening of the Innovation Centre, Darren notes, “it’s a strong symbol that the knowledge-based industry is here to stay and thriving. Our café is strategically located nearby and we’re excited about nurturing our existing relationships with people who will be in the building and of course, welcoming new people who want to give us a try.”
“It’s the idea of you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours,” Dr. Tater articulates as he explains his commitment to supporting his fellow business owners. As a chiropractor and operator of The Core Centre of Health just steps from the Innovation Centre, Dr. Tater is more likely to crack a back than scratch one, but the sentiment holds true. As he monitors the progress of construction at the Innovation Centre and anticipates the influx of people that will migrate to this area, Dr. Tater reflects on a conversation he had with a former City official who declared, “when (the Innovation Centre) is done, it’s going to be the busiest corner between Vancouver and Calgary.” Having lived all over North America, he is convinced that the Okanagan is the definition of paradise. He doesn’t plan to leave Kelowna and he is ecstatic that initiatives such as the Innovation Centre mean his children may not have to relocate either: “I have two kids and they’re both hugely into computers. I love the fact that when they get to be older, they don’t have to leave. Information technology is going to be the new drive and infrastructure. If we become the Silicon Valley of the north, that’s awesome.”
The conversation on what lies ahead for downtown business owners will continue with the upcoming sequel to this two-part series, as the community looks ahead to the opening of the Innovation Centre.