The former home of the Forest City Gallery on Richmond Street has managed to retain its arty feel as a cluster of local businesses have managed to re-shape the strip into a mini hub of art and design.
Jerzy Smolarek and Mike Davis bought 258 Richmond St., the building that housed the gallery, in November 2021 primarily as a home for their urban planning and design studio Siv-ik (pronounced “civic”).
They envisioned having Forest City Gallery as a long-term tenant but the gallery opted to move to 1025 Elias St., creating a vacancy.
Shortly after the gallery moved out, Arthur Lierman moved his landscape design company into the main floor space.
Lierman’s design work has shaped scores of outdoor spaces familiar to Londoners, including Beryl Ivey Garden at Western University and the Rotary Reading Garden in the London Public Library’s downtown location.
His firm also worked on the design for the pocket park at the corner of Richmond and Horton.
Lierman has now moved to the building’s second floor. He likes working beside the north-facing windows where he can gaze across the railway tracks and into London’s downtown core as construction cranes re-shape the city’s skyline.
“We were looking for a place in the core but not right in the heart,” said Lierman, whose business was on Wellington Street for years prior to the move to Richmond Street. “I’ve always gravitated to somewhere along the train tracks.”
Lierman said being close, but not too close, to the heart of downtown gives the area a unique feel.
“There are a lot of creative businesses showing up here,” he said. “I find that there is creative energy here and some good spots to eat. It just seems as though all of a sudden, we have this magical design hub.”
When Lierman relocated upstairs, Black Mountain Design Group moved into the main floor space of 258 Richmond St.
Black Mountain is the duo of designer Hali Gallerno and her husband contractor John Dignard.
The couple moved their business to London from the Greater Toronto Area four years ago but opened the storefront at 258 Richmond St. this year. Together they help clients with renovations and remaking redesigns.
The new storefront is a space where they can meet clients and show off some of the finishings such as flooring, tile and custom cabinetry.
Gallerno said she’s a big believer in downtown London, despite the challenges business owners face in the core.
“We like the community, the architecture,” she said. “This is a space where we can really show clients what we can do. And we’re all kind of in the same field in this building and this whole strip here.”
Next door to 258 Richmond St. Jim Telfer runs Splash, an art and interior decor shop. A veteran of London’s art scene, Telfer would like to see the design district ideas catch on, even without the benefit of any official city designation.
“We thought this would be a great location for a store like ours and there’s others that have moved into the area as well,” said Telfer.
The area south of Horton Street in London has become known as “SoHo.” In the London context, it’s an acronym for “South of Horton.”
It’s a nod to the original SoHo in Manhattan, which stands for “South of Houston Street” and describes a neighborhood packed with galleries, boutique hotels and other designed-themed businesses.
Telfer hopes the SoHo name could help give the area an identity, even though technically his shop is north of Horton Street.
“I thought ‘Why not give SoHo as a kind of background for all the other design studios, art galleries, jewelry manufacturers, that type of thing but in London,” said Telfer. “I think it could be a really cool area.”
Telfer is hosting his annual Spring Fling event at Splash on Wednesday, May 31. He says the event is expected to bring people interested in art and design from the neighborhood but also from other cities.
“As cities grow they move, they change so we’re in the middle of that right now in London,” he said.