There was a time when Knowlton was a busy tourist centre. Its peak was around 30 years ago when a local entrepreneur started an outlet called LL Brome followed by the arrival of the well-known Ralph Lauren.
“Those times are not coming back,” says Owen Falquero, president of the Chamber of Commerce of the Town of Brome Lake and a lawyer with an active practice working out of a space that once was retail.
Back then the village of Knowlton was part of an experiment to allow Sunday shopping in tourist locations. Today, Sunday shopping is a reality across the province.
Competition surrounds the town like the moat of a medieval castle. Where once Knowlton was a destination for shopping tourists, now they can go to the Dix-30 in Brossard or the big box stores in Granby and Sherbrooke.
There are plans for the commercial future of the Town of Brome Lake. Committees are struck, meetings are held. But the old fashioned free market is sending a few obvious signals. There are two buildings in the city center, the red building at the top of England Hill, and the brick one beside the pub, that have been modernised with living space upstairs. No committee decided this; it happened because people want to live here in modern updated space. Having people living in the downtown core is a sure way to encourage downtown businesses. Perhaps it is time to review bylaws concerning commercial spaces fronting on the street in Knowlton.
Knowlton is a residential success. Retail only seems to work when it is well thought-out and well-run. But the town is not a business failure. Of the 130 members of the Chamber of Commerce, half are hidden from view, consultants, writers and artists working from home, making as much or more money than tiny shops. What about Brome Bird Care? A thriving international business based in a small no storefront Knowlton locale. The way of doing business in the age of Internet.
There is a new drugstore on the edge of the village. The future of the old IGA is “The best kept secret in town” according to Mr. Falquero, but that part of town is expanding. Not everyone likes it, but it is reality.
The town council has well thought out plans for the future. There are new residential developments planned. A few empty storefronts do not mean the town is dying. On the contrary, it is alive and well, just not the place it used to be.