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Bringing new life to downtown Yarmouth

Yarmouth businessman Richard LeBlanc stands in front of two buildings he dramatically transformed on Main Street.
Yarmouth businessman Richard LeBlanc stands in front of two buildings he dramatically transformed on Main Street.

Editor's Note: Second life. It can represent a chance to do over. To reset and refocus your life. To shake off the past and give yourself an opportunity to change and grow. In our series, Second Life, we took a look at how those in the small business world, out of necessity or desire, reach beyond their comfort zones to re-create themselves and their world. These stories celebrate those who saw potential in being something else or creating something that wasn’t and were brave enough to take the plunge into the deep, dark waters of entrepreneurship.

Earlier this year, there was a sign affixed to a business in downtown Yarmouth that said: “If you can’t get it here, it ain’t worth having.”
The problem was, you couldn’t get anything “here” anymore.
The windows and doors of the former souvenir shop – Mr. Leonard’s – were boarded up. The business, occupying two buildings at 258 and 260 Main Street, had closed a long time ago and in the years when there was no ferry service it didn’t make sense to restart that type of store.
But it also didn’t make sense for these buildings to never see life again. At least, that’s what Yarmouth businessman Richard LeBlanc thought. The Victory Realty owner got tired of looking out of his Main Street window, staring at buildings that desperately needed attention.
And so he tapped into the Yarmouth façade program introduced years ago, and into his vision and creativity. He purchased the buildings and restored them. The renovations were so dramatic that people now stop and take photos of the buildings. One business even started advertising its new location here before the renovations were even complete.
LeBlanc spent hours online researching Victorian structures and noting architectural features of historic homes in Yarmouth. These buildings were going to stand out, he decided, with detail and colour. He delved into his collection of antique features, including corbels, finials and gable decorations. He repurposed materials, bought some from antique stores, had some custom-built and ordered others from suppliers. He hand-painted many pieces for the renovation.
This wasn’t the first building LeBlanc tackled. He took his own building at 255 Main St. – what is known as The Consulate Building – and restored the 1845-built building where his real estate business is located. The building also now houses a café his daughter started up called The Perky Owl.
Yarmouth Mayor Pam Mood says this has been the whole goal of the Town of Yarmouth’s façade program – to bring buildings to life, to show their potential, to fill up empty storefronts and to instil pride in the downtown.
She thinks back years ago to the many empty storefronts amid tired-looking buildings. It was no one’s fault. The economic downturn, particularly in the years with no ferry service, coupled with other economic pieces, were hard on many, she says.
And so the town stepped in with a façade program, offering up to $5,000 in matching funds to businesses and property owners who wanted to invest in their properties.
Many businesses have jumped on board. As of this past summer, 61 applications had been approved since the program was launched.  This included 38 completed facades and 23 projects to be completed.
The town had paid out grants totalling $250,227.08, while the total value of the improvements that business and property owners had carried out was $650,447.62.
Natalie Smith, the town’s economic development officer, says the value of the improvements is probably 20 per cent higher than this figure as businesses have undertaken other interior work as well.
At an early October town council committee of the whole meeting, Smith said there has been so much interest in the façade program that there was only enough money left in this year’s budget to complete one more project.
And still businesses continue to apply.
A request will go to the town by the not-for-profit society that runs the program seeking more money for the project next year.
Meanwhile, a drive up and down Main Street in 2017 is a lot different than from years ago when the windows were boarded up on that souvenir store.



ELEMENT: 5 THINGS TO KNOW:
1. The Town of Yarmouth offers a façade improvement grant program to assist downtown property owners and tenants with the financing of street-oriented building façade improvements.
2. The program is administered by the Yarmouth Facade Society, a not-for-profit volunteer board with support from the town’s Economic Development staff.
3. Since the program was introduced the town has invested grants totalling $250,227.08.
4. Since the program was introduced participating the value of the improvement by businesses is more than $650,447.
5. You can find lots of information about the façade program on the Town of Yarmouth’s website.

 

How the buildings looked before – boarded up, tired, ugly and empty.

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