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Downtown Kitchener

Downtown Kitchener is a great place to live, and a great place to visit. And with more and more tech startups, condos, office buildings and local businesses opening up shop around the downtown core, it’s also a great place to work. I know what you might be wondering: where exactly is downtown Kitchener? Why, it’s the area that stretches outwards from the central intersection of King Street and Queen Street – the point where King St. East becomes King St. West, and Queen St. South becomes Queen St. North. If this makes it sound like a magical place, then just wait until we get to Fritsch Fragrances Inc.

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Neighbourhoods

Wrapped around the central, downtown core (essentially, King and Queen) are a series of several neighbourhoods. These neighbourhoods include Cedar Hill; Central Frederick; Cherry Hill; Civic Centre; King East; and Victoria Park (links provided to WRX articles on the individual neighbourhoods). Each of these neighbourhoods has their own distinct feel, and their own Neighbourhood Association (for example, you can peruse the WRX articles on the Victoria Park Neighbourhood Association and the King East Neighbourhood Association). Kitchener’s Downtown Neighbourhood Alliance serves the entirety of the downtown area. These groups strive to make life great for residents, and they help foster connections between between neighbours and businesses alike. If you worry that living downtown can feel impersonal, then these hardworking groups may allay your fears: there’s a true sense of community in each of these neighbourhoods. Several schools serve the downtown region, too, with quite a few elementary schools and high schools available (such as Cameron Heights, one of the largest schools in Kitchener-Waterloo).

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Activities

Downtown Kitchener always has something going on. But there are specific times throughout the year with distinctly largescale events that really get the streets buzzing with energy and excitement. Most recently, the Christkindl Market came to King Street West. There were dozens of wooden stalls set up outside City Hall, with even more vendors within City Hall itself, selling all manner of food, drink, crafts and more. Live entertainment included orchestras, blacksmithing demonstrations, and horse-drawn carriages (you can read more about Kitchener’s Christkindl Market here). This is just one example of Kitchener’s special events held downtown, and there are many more throughout the year (including Kitchener’s famous Oktoberfest festivities and many, many musical events).
Speaking of music, downtown Kitchener has several fantastic concert destinations (particularly off of Queen Street). The Registry Theatre features intimate performances by less well-known artists (including music, theatre, dance, and lectures); it’s also a rather pretty building. The Kitchener Memorial Auditorium provides sports facilities and hosts a variety of largescale events (including concerts by both the Tragically Hip and Michael Bublé), and it serves as the home of the Kitchener Rangers, Kitchener’s OHL team (Ontario Hockey League). The Centre in the Square offers a wide variety of performances throughout the year, with options ranging from stand-up comedy and Cirque de la Symphonie to children’s plays and Classic Albums Live. The Princess Cinemas (both the Original and Twin locations) show mainstream classics, indie hits, and special events all through the year. Finally, the main branch of the Kitchener Public Library offers free events throughout the year, and there’s usually something great going on in Victoria Park.

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Parks

Victoria Park is one of the most beautiful parts of the Waterloo Region, and it’s a big part of why Downtown Kitchener is such an amazing place to live or visit. It has abundant trails, the lovely Victoria Lake (featuring several wooden pedestrian bridges), an ample playground, the Victoria Park Pavilion, and so much more. It’s a great place to spend time, whether you like to walk around the pathways, or sit and chat, think, or read. The iconic, historic clocktower in Victoria Park (it’s recognizable in part due to its portrayal on Kitchener’s flag) gives the area an air of timeless sophistication (or perhaps timed sophistication?) – indeed, Victoria Park is Kitchener’s oldest park, and it’s also most assuredly one of its best. Several other parks serve the downtown area, too, including Kaufman and Knollwood Parks, which have grounds set up for various sports.


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Shopping

The streets of downtown Kitchener are replete with opportunities in shopping and fine dining, too. Firstly, the historic Kitchener Farmer’s Market is a true gem. It dates back to the mid nineteenth-century, and it’s been on King Street ever since (though it’s underwent a few reconstructions and a slight relocation, to accommodate larger crowds). The Farmers’ Market runs every Saturday from 7 a.m. – 2 p.m., and the dining options on the second floor are open Tuesday – Friday from 8 a.m. – 3 p.m., and Saturday 7 a.m. – 2 p.m. The variety and quality of food and goods here is impressive, to say the least; you can enjoy the sight of delicious pastries, soak in the delectable smells of fresh-ground coffee, or try authentic international cuisine from around the world – all for a fair price, and lovingly prepared by local hands.

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It would be impossible to list all of the restaurants, cafés, and shops that make downtown Kitchener such an exciting place to be – you truly have to come see them for yourself. There are popular cafés and buzzing bars, elegant restaurants and fast food, international grocers and so much more. But Fritsch Fragrances is a unique place, unlike any other in the city. When Kitchener resident Michael Fritsch was young, he worked as a delivery boy for a downtown business; as a man, he became a pharmacist and bought the building where he’d worked. In 1988, Mr. Fritsch decided to get out of the pharmacy game, and he dove head-first into the fragrance game. And now, his shop still stands proudly on King Street West, selling rare and wonderful fragrances. As noted on his website, “Only a small handful of perfumistas and collectors know of his vast, rare and mostly discontinued stock – until now.” Well, dear WRX reader – now you know, too. This is, of course, just one example of the endless, unique discoveries to be made on the streets of downtown Kitchener.

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Transportation

There are several generous parking options available downtown, making it all the easier to visit. The City has three parking lots with free, two-hour parking during the week (parking is even easier during evenings and weekends), and there are several streets with similar parking options. Check out the Downtown Kitchener parking guide here. Paid lots are available, as well, including one by the library. Downtown Kitchener also has excellent public transportation. Highlights include the Charles Street Transit Terminal, one of Grand River Transit’s two central stations. From here, you can access buses running throughout the Region (including convenient iXpress lines), and intercity service from Greyhound, MegaBus, and GO. Once the LRT is up and running, there will be several stations throughout the downtown core, including a stop right by the Kitchener Market, and one closer to the Charles Street Transit Terminal. Buses from all around Kitchener-Waterloo head towards downtown, so even if you don’t live downtown, it’s quite simple to get there (and it will be even simpler with the LRT’s ION cars bustling up and down the tracks).


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Conclusion

The City of Kitchener has pledged to revitalize parts of Queen Street (particularly the stretch between Duke Street East and Charles Street East), which shows that the city itself is committed to its historic downtown region. Significant amounts of money are being invested throughout Downtown Kitchener: it is both an established part of the city, and a community on the rise. Historic buildings are being converted into swanky condominiums, real-estate in the area is on the rise, and there’s truly an air of excitement, opportunity, and progress. The historic, distinctive architecture of the homes in this area make it a lovely place for a stroll; the fact that there are countless great places to visit makes it all the better. You can read about the City of Kitchener itself here.

Written by Will Kummer

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