Lisa Grace Marr
The Hamilton Spectator
Catherine Lee and Will Luo were dreaming big, wanting to start their own business.
Lee had come to Hamilton to study at McMaster as an international student and moved to Toronto right after graduation. Her partner, Luo, was also finished school and living in Toronto.
But a few months ago, they decided to take another look at Hamilton.
They see the city as a place that can accommodate their dreams so they took the plunge, moved back and opened Pretty House in February. It’s a store on the street-level of the Effort Square building which offers Asian toiletries, phone cases, accessories and in a new twist this month, tax services for international students.
Columbia International College has one of its women’s residences nearby on Catherine Street and there are about 300 students from the college who live in off-campus housing, many in the downtown.
They are just part of the changing demographic of the neighbourhood as more international students from Columbia, McMaster, Mohawk and Redeemer settle into the core.
A row of commercial shops along the street level of Landmark Place (also known as the Century 21 building) is further evidence: with a bubble tea shop, Meet You Here Internet Café and a computer service store offering service in with Chinese language (services?) across the street.
Hannah Bissell manages the convenience store on the King Street side of the Effort Square building which, until recently, was a traditional convenience shop but now carries international foods.
She said the students have changed the store and the neighbourhood, for the better.
“I feel safer here now,” she said, getting a break after a long lineup of students stepped in for afternoon munchies. “The students are so polite.”
There is a small aisle of potato chips but there is a bigger aisle of dried red bean curd, Shandong groundnuts and other Asian snack-foods.
She said the new owner of the store is Chinese and he recognized the need for a retail space that catered to the needs, and tastes of the local community.
“He thought he would cater to the kids at Columbia International College but also to the overall growing Asian hub here.”
Luo said although he has competition for Pretty House at a store across the street and for tax services from accountants who travel from Toronto in April to Hamilton for tax season, he sees plenty of room in the market.
“We think there is strong room for growth in this market, much more than in Toronto.”
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