Ian Laurie – Bloomfield Property Developer

Ian Laurie was studying architecture at Carlton University in 1990 when his parents bought the property at 106 Main Street, Bloomfield. He came to visit them and never really left, settling for good in The County in 1992. The property has been a landmark of the village since it was built in 1901 as a cheese factory. Cheese-making finished in the 1960s, but the place saw a lot of action after that, including a fire in 2014. The damage kept the building shuttered until its rebirth this year as a restaurant called, ironically, Flame & Smith. The restaurant has the lion’s share but is one of three tenants in the eye-catching space that has had people rubber-necking for months as they drove by. Ian’s vision and building skills, “and a whole lot of money” he laughs, transformed the old place into an artfully landscaped, dramatic, stylish new landmark in the town.

“I ran a café called the Painted Garden here from 1994 to 1999,” he recalls. “But before that it was the County Cupboard, a bulk food store, A Touch of Pine, a tourist office and a gift shop, and there were one or two bakeries, too. After my café came JJ’s, a bar and grill with live music, then Dave’s Road House. Then the fire. We gutted it, and let it sit dormant while I thought about what I really wanted. As soon as I had the capital I completely renovated it. Only the exterior brickwork and some of the roof remained. Everything inside is changed.”

BACKGROUND: “I grew up in Streetsville which is part of Mississauga now. Back then it was a small town like Picton, a farming community with a river running through it where we all played. It wasn’t a big stretch for me to move to The County. I was fresh out of university and I just did anything and everything I could at that time to earn a living. I ran the café and worked for builders in the off-season, worked with a carpenter for five years, then went off on my own. I’ve run my own construction business for fourteen years completing a variety of residential projects, including designing and building modern homes in Hillier in partnership with another contractor, Kevin Armitage,. The building at 106 Main Street was my first commercial project which was a learning experience for me.

BLOOMFIELD:  “The 1980s were tough on the village. There wasn’t much happening on Main Street apart from Tim Cole’s combination convenience store-butchers-pizzeria-video rental place on the corner where Slickers is now. When Cobi Foods shut down it hit the town hard. They were in the factory on Stanley Street. Bloomfield slowly picked up. I remember Mrs Dickinson’s Café downtown. People started moving into the empty shops, doing up the houses. Bloomfield became a boutique town. It gets really busy with shoppers in the high season and there are a number of restaurants. With its zoning, I’m not sure how much further it can go commercially. There is municipal water, but not municipal sewage. The town voted on it and rejected that in the 1990s, which I think was a mistake. Now businesses don’t find it easy to expand because they can’t handle the numbers, they can’t expand their septic arrangements. I currently have a good system in, but if I want to expand down the line I’ll have to put in a water treatment plant at great expense. But it will be worth it.

BUSINESS MODEL: I took a chance. When the fire happened we could have walked away, but then we would have nothing. I decided to go for all or nothing. I didn’t want to just band-aid it. I had a vision to completely change the building and I thought long and hard how to do it. I knew it could accommodate more than one business, so I laid out washrooms that could be shared. I really wanted it to have great curb appeal and went all out on the landscaping. The sound and atmosphere of running water was important to me – and lighting for nighttime. I integrated lighting into the concrete walls to create a welcoming presence in the streetscape. I wanted the exterior to cascade down to the street to draw people in. I envisaged the exterior as a cross between modernist and rustic, which is very much the style of The County today, and I put in big doors to open up wide and let the outdoors in.

The style suits Flame & Smith very well, but I’d settled on the interior feel and had exposed the rafters before we even met. Their own architect and designer designed their bar and flooring, the kitchen was custom designed by the architectural firm with their specialized oven and they did their own decorating, other than my wood ceiling. It’s a good collaboration. The concept really attracts people, invites them in and makes them want to stay. I have invested a lot and it will take time to recoup. But it was worth the risk. We brought the old place back to life. I have three tenants, Flame & Smith, Glow Hairdressing and K.C. Closet, and there is one more space that is private – my mum uses it as an art studio. I am so glad to have Flame & Smith, they’re a great fit. They are high end and have great vision and they are local now. They live in the village and have two young children and are very family oriented. Great people. Great food. As a developer, a property owner, you never know who you’re going to get. I couldn’t be happier. I’m very optimistic. I feel good about the investment.

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