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Layman House closes
By Anne Sagar
The closure of a long-time downtown business has forced the City to take another hard look at London's downtown economic woes.
Layman House is no longer home to London's retro-fashion scene, as it closed its doors last weekend after 26 years in the business.
Store owner, Les MacKay, listed several developments, including the state of downtown London and the prevalence of malls, as reasons for the closure. "[We are a] a mall society. It is a phase we are going through. [Look at the prevalence] of Business Depot and Costco," he said.
MacKay said his store catered to a niche market and downtown was the worst possible location.
Lindsey Elwood, chair of the London Downtown Business Association, dismissed the notion that the state of the downtown core in any way contributed to the closing of Layman House. "Businesses close down for many reasons," he said.
"Lots of good things are happening. Come downtown and see what's there." Elwood said.
Still, MacKay said he has his own four point plan to revitalize the downtown area. First, he explained, the area should be privatized. "The downtown corporation would have its own security or police," he said. This move would ensure the safety of patrons by breaking up groups, panhandlers and removing intimidation, MacKay said.
An increase in lighting would also brighten the area and promote security, MacKay said.
He also said he feels entrepreneurs need help to buy buildings and set up business. "[Downtown] could be a trendy place to shop again."
Elwood said London's participation in the Main Street Program, a urban revitalization plan, is the first of its kind in Canada. The program has been successful in 1,500 cities in the US, he added.
The program, which has been assessing London's downtown economic situation for over a year, has four objectives: to promote the area, provide economic development and economic design programs, get rid of the graffiti and clean up the streets, Elwood explained.
"We hired a director four months ago and now have 200 volunteers. This is a grass roots movement" he said, adding City Council is providing $100,000 for the Main Street program.
The London Downtown Business Association will also contribute $280,000 this year, he said.
Joe Swan, a member of London's Board of Control, said City Council is focusing on the business management phase with regards to downtown revitalization. "There is an increased role for the Board of Control members. We must ensure that the project is well managed and on budget," Swan said.