Our latest issue is out now! today.

Return of the Roaring ‘20s

Ford City Renaissance Continues as New Businesses Flock to Historic Neighbourhood
Author: Jen Brignall-Strong
Photographer: Maximus Reid
2 years ago
No Comments
Share On

In the early 1920s, Ford City was a bustling town. Thanks to the burgeoning auto industry and a strong partnership with Henry Ford, the once quiet village had experienced a decade of rapid development; quickly becoming home to over 16,000 residents and an array of retail and services along its main thoroughfare, Drouillard Road.

Now, a century later, the area has once again become a mecca for growth, with dozens of young, motivated entrepreneurs breathing new life into the historic district; refacing aging buildings and creating a vibrant, walkable community.

“It’s neat to watch new businesses come in. Really great businesses too,” says Shane Potvin, Chair of the Ford City Business Improvement Association. “And this is just the beginning. We have at least ten buildings that are going to be renovated within the next couple of years.”

Potvin, a graphic designer and business owner, has been Chair of the BIA since 2018. He was drawn to the area early on in its redevelopment, purchasing a building on the corner of Drouillard and Whelpton Street in 2017 which is now home to The Grand Cantina restaurant.

“My wife and I were at The Heimat’s biergarten and loved the atmosphere,” he recalls. “We were wandering down Drouillard afterward and noticed that that building was for sale. We looked at it literally on the spot and bought it two days later.”

He says the goal was to find a destination restaurant for the location. Through a conversation between mutual friends, Potvin found the perfect tenants for the building. In May 2018, The Grand Cantina opened its doors.

“That was pretty pivotal for the neighbourhood,” says Potvin. “When they opened it was a completely other world. There were lineups out the door and cars parked down the street.”

 “When we were deciding on a location, we knew we had the opportunity to do something great in that neighbourhood,” says John Alvarez, co-owner of The Grand Cantina. “Looking at what Detroit’s restaurant scene was doing at the time and being able to do something similar and be a part of introducing new life into the area was a great feeling.”

Business owner Michael Difazio notes that while the growth hasn’t happened overnight, the neighbourhood has undergone a substantial transformation since he moved to the area in 2014.

“When I moved here, it was a ghost town,” laughs the owner of Michael Difazio Reclaim Artistry. He was one of the first to open up shop on Drouillard and has since been a part of over a half a dozen real estate transactions on the block.

“It’s an area with an enormous amount of untapped potential. Being a business owner, resident, investor, and developer in this neighbourhood, I couldn’t pass up the opportunities,” he says, noting that he hopes to open up another business in the area by the end of 2022.

The building Difazio is currently renovating is just one of many slated for transformation in the coming year, shares Potvin.

“We’ve got some really big things happening,” he says. “The corner of Richmond and Drouillard is getting a total renovation. That’s going to be a restaurant and a patio and another great business that faces Drouillard. It’s quite transformative for that block because it used to be a vacant auto body shop.”

Potvin says the momentum has picked up substantially over the past two years, with several new businesses opening despite COVID-19 restrictions and delays. He also points out that the street isn’t just filled with one type of business, but rather a collection of businesses that draw in a variety of different people.

“The past year has been pretty pivotal for getting things moving,” he says. “Businesses like City Cyclery, Chance Coffee, and The Soda Pop Bros. have brought a new interest to the area. Pressure Drop did such a great job as well bringing people in during Covid.”

Potvin’s wife Lauren even opened up her own business during the uncertainty of the pandemic; an eclectic home décor and clothing store called Bunch, which she has recently expanded.

“Now it’s more than twice the size as when she first opened.”

Potvin also credits grant opportunities from the City of Windsor’s Community Improvement Plan in helping expedite the area’s development.

“The timing was just right; the real estate marketing was shifting upward and the CIP came out so then Ford City just became this perfect spot for someone to buy a building,” he explains.

While all the investors and businesses are on their own timelines, Potvin says they’re starting to see more buildings being renovated in tandem.

“There are probably at least six other buildings being completed in the next year or so,” he continues.

Potvin says the area continues to attract young business owners and notes that many of their newest tenants began as vendors at the Downtown Windsor Farmer’s Market, including The Vegan Gardiners.

“We chose Ford City for a number of reasons,” says Amy Gardiner-Upton, who owns the plant-based deli with her husband Ryan. “We live in Ford City, so we definitely feel a pull to support the area and see it thrive. It’s also a place for mold breakers and makers, and we felt this motto was a great fit for what we do.”

Gardiner-Upton says they hope to see a variety of new business develop over the coming years to create an area where people can spend the day.

It’s a sentiment shared by her other fellow business owners.

“Seeing others put their roots down in this community, I feel really excited for the future,” agrees Alvarez.  

“There’s just so much happening; it’s very exciting,” echoes Potvin. “There’s something special about the neighbourhood. It’s not polished, but it feels comfortable. It’s not like anywhere else in this city.”

Related Posts