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Solving a mystery on LeMarchant Road in St. John's


Diner has been vacant for 20 years amid busy, eclectic neighbhourhood

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Uptown, midtown, whatever you choose to call it, there’s a stretch of LeMarchant Road/Long’s Hill/Harvey Road in St. John's that’s got a new vibe, while the vacancy of one old building has been a mystery to its newer neighbours.

Perhaps you’ve driven or walked by and seen the sign along the side — Scamper’s — and noticed through the window the vintage diner stools, the Coca-Cola cooler and what looks like kitchen utensils and equipment.

While clearly long shuttered, its menu signs are still visible — fish and chips, hot turkey sandwich, snack pack with two pieces of chicken, fries and coleslaw.

A commercial stretch of LeMarchant Road. The old Scamper's outlet is the brown building on the left.
A commercial stretch of LeMarchant Road. The old Scamper's outlet is the brown building on the left.

Neighbours, when asked by The Telegram, say they haven’t seen anyone go in or out of the building in years, except maybe a few birds flying around.

“It’s a mystery,” said one neighbour who didn’t want to be named.

“It’s a sad little corner, for sure,” said Jessica Hanley, who works at the SAM Design Inc.. furniture gallery across the street. 

“A lot of people are asking me about it,” said Iggi Sicuan, who runs the nearby G Salon and has fielded some queries from friends who are interested in opening a restaurant but don't know who owns the building. 

“We all want it to be a smoothie or juice joint,” said Melanie Caines, operator of Nova Yoga.

“I’ve always thought it would be a nice spot, actually,” said Matthew Finateri, who operates a bakery a block or so down the hill. 

“But it looks like it hasn’t been touched in God knows how long. I have wondered what’s on the go with that, for sure.”

There’s various folklore and rumours around the neighbourhood, including musings about the owner being in jail, or that the building was the subject of a dispute.

Iggi Sicuan (right) operates Gsalon on Lemarchant Road in St. John's. Zeus Doca gets a haircut.
Iggi Sicuan (right) operates Gsalon on Lemarchant Road in St. John's. Zeus Doca gets a haircut.

Owned by Scamper's

But the actual owners of 3 LeMarchant Rd. are the operators of Scamper’s, which is still in business as a diner on O’Leary Avenue. 

“The two (locations) were operating at the one time. … There was nobody to run (LeMarchant),” said Milton Young, adding that he visits the property from time to time. 

“That was the main thing at the time. It’s a seven-day, 24-hour thing. If you own a business, you got to live it. There was just nobody available to look after it. … We had to close the door on it.”

Young said they couldn’t keep both locations going with no interest among family members to run the LeMarchant location.

The diner has been closed for about 20 years. Young said the family got tired of cleaning off and painting over graffiti on the exterior.

“Whenever we clean it up, they come back and do it again,” he said. “You just get fed up with that. … What’s the point if they are just going to come back and do it again? I’ve yet to see anybody catch anybody.”

Plenty of people over the years have shown interest in taking over the property for other uses, but there are no plans to rent it out, Young said.

Melanie Caines bought the building that houses her Long's Hill business, Nova Yoga.
Melanie Caines bought the building that houses her Long's Hill business, Nova Yoga.

“We’re not interested, but you never know what’s coming around the corner,” he said. "Nothing I am going to start tomorrow, not offhand. It’s just a vacant building. There are an awful lot of vacant buildings around this town, an awful lot.”

He said the family has been involved in restaurants since 1951, in various locations around the capital city. Scampers first opened in 1978.


Revived neighbourhood

The LeMarchant/Long’s Hill/Harvey Road area has become a hot spot for new businesses and building renos, including the recent transformation of the former Long’s Hill Convenience into Long’s Hill Café coffee shop. 

But the LeMarchant-Long’s Hill-Harvey Road stretch also features an art gallery, a bakery, a yoga studio, an international grocery, a hair salon, a bike shop, a tea shop, a furniture store and other businesses, as well as a decades-old Chinese restaurant, that are attracting a diverse crowd.

Across the intersection from the old Scamper’s, Caines has renovated the building that houses her busy studio, Nova Yoga.

When she was looking to expand, she bought the building, which years ago was a fruit store. She likes the idea it was once a health-centred business, as it is now.

She also likes the current mix of businesses and residential properties and is happy to see more operations move into the thriving area, especially choices that appeal to her customers.

“It’s very exciting for us,” Caines said.

“For me it was city centre without being downtown, which I think can be trouble, parking-wise,” she said. 

“It’s walking distance for a lot of people and driving is not too hectic. I really like the area. … Apparently back in the day this was a happening area and that’s happening again.”

Sicuan, a Filipino immigrant who said he worked in Paris before moving to Canada, loves the neighbourhood for his busy G Salon, which operates seven days a week. He finds the parking good and the area safe, and he's proud of his contribution to the new life of the neighbourhood.

Nearby hotels and the proximity to downtown also help draw in customers.

“It’s sooo nice,” he said, while working on a client’s hair. 

“I am making good here and 40 per cent of my clients are from walk-ins.”

The former Scamper’s location on LeMarchant Road has been closed for about 20 years and is often the target of graffiti artists.
The former Scamper’s location on LeMarchant Road has been closed for about 20 years and is often the target of graffiti artists.

Reasonable rents

Fen Kuo of Formosa Tea Room moved her business from the end of LeMarchant — where G Salon is now — about a block away to Long’s Hill. 

“This area is cheaper than all the streets, rental,” she said, referring to pricier neighbourhoods like downtown. 

Her busy season is fall to spring, as she gets a lot of trade from local residents. 

Finateri of Tulip Baloo Bakery, taking a break from a busy day in the kitchen, said he has been in business on Harvey Road almost a year.  

The bakery — with its broad range of vegan and gluten-free options — expanded from a wholesale operation on Water Street, and business is good.

“The location itself was affordable and it was as move-in ready as I was going to get,” he said.

“I’m happy with it. It’s a nice area for exposure because you get a lot of traffic going either way from one end of town to the other if you want to stick downtown. ... You get a lot of exposure that way. Having Tim Hortons across the street gives you exposure. It’s a nice mix of business and residential. The foot traffic is half-decent.”

Ellen Squires, manager of SAM Design furniture gallery, said the newer businesses in the area have revitalized the neighbourhood, and nearby houses are getting a facelift.

Parking can be an issue for them with offloading to their warehouse, as it is for some merchants in the area who spoke to The Telegram, but overall, they’re glad to see new businesses and excitement in the area, hoping the revitalization will spread to all the buildings.


Reviewing standards

St. John's Coun. Maggie Burton, lead on planning, development and heritage, said she has wondered about the old Scamper's location. 

"It provides a lot of intrigue," she said, also mentioning the former Grace nursing residence further down LeMarchant. 

The city doesn't compile the number of vacant properties as a list, but abandoned buildings do cause problems ranging from unsightliness to becoming a dumping ground for garbage, she said. 

The city is currently reviewing its residential and commercial standards bylaws, and initiatives like putting historical photos over boarded-up windows has helped the look of some buildings, such as the old grocery store in Churchill Square or a vacant cycle shop on Water Street. 

Burton hopes as the economy improves, fewer storefronts will be vacant. She also noted that if a business relocates, it's still contributing to the city. 

"It's kind of like playing musical chairs," she said.

As for the Grace, it's in one of several special intensification zones where development fees would be waived by the city to encourage development. The stretch of LeMarchant where the old Scamper's is located is not part of that zone.

barbara.sweet@thetelegram.com
Twitter: @BarbSweetTweets

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