After she opened the doors of her new fashion retail store and clothing design studio in Thorold’s historic old fire hall a few weeks ago, Shannon Passero said an 80-year-old man asked if he could see the old jail cells still in the building basement.
The man was more than just a curious tourist, she said.
“When he was 16 he spent a few nights there,” Passero, owner of a clothing business bearing her name, told a huge crowd of people gathered at the fire hall on Monday for the official ribbon cutting of the business.
Welland riding MPP Cindy Forster told Passero she was making a vote of confidence in Thorold’s revitalized commercial core by moving her business from her home in St. Catharines to the Albert Street landmark dating back to 1878.
“Sometimes it takes great courage to locate businesses in a small community,” she said. “But Thorold is a very thriving, vibrant community.”
Thorold regional councillor Henry D’Angela thanked Passero for “helping to preserve Thorold’s past and shaping its future,” by giving the old fire hall a new lease on life and continuing the Renaissance of historic downtown buildings in the commercial core. “We’re really building on our historical tradition,” he said.
Mayor Ted Luciani said he did a walkabout in the downtown the other day, doing a rough count of the number of new businesses that have opened their doors there over the last five years. He figures that number now stands at about 23.
“We’re truly honoured you’ve taken on this project,” he told Passero. “You should be proud. We’re very proud of you.”
Alicia Vizzari, new boutique manager of Passero’s retail outlet that is selling her Pure Handknit and Neon Buddha clothing lines along with clothes and accessories sourced from places such as Asia and Europe, said returning to work in downtown Thorold is a joy for her as someone born and raised here.
“It’s an absolute honour to be back in this city,” she said.
Passero told the gathering she’s been bowled over by the reception she’s received from residents and other business owners.
“We’ve been welcomed to this community with open arms,” she said. “The city of Thorold has come out and shown its true colours.
“I’m really proud of what’s happened today,” she said, saying the new retail location is transforming her “dream into reality.”
Passero also announced her new Women’s Business Grant Program, which will make two, $12,500 grants available to female business owners in Ontario who pursue new businesses with a philosophy of sustainability. The application deadline is Sept. 15.
While the annual grants will be available to women entrepreneurs across Ontario, Passero said she’s hopeful the successful applicants will be from Niagara.
“We hope to empower people and women specifically,” she said. “Hopefully in a few years we’ll have a bunch (more) of us in downtown Thorold.”