The face of the Byward Market will be drastically changing in the coming weeks. An entire block of retail space along Sussex Drive is being shut down for renovations, dislodging many long-standing tenants. The century-old building runs between Clarence and Murray along Sussex. It is operated by the National Capital Commission that plans to renovate and re-open in a year. Probably the most recognizable name along that strip is Richard Robinson Haute Couture. But there are smaller shops, too, scrambling to relocate, worried what this means for their future.  Richard Robinson Haute Couture has been a mainstay on that strip of Sussex Drive for 35 years selling designer fashions from the main floor and teaching up and coming designers in their Academy of Fashion Design on the top floors.

Louise Robinson says the location, across from the National Gallery of Canada, has been ideal for business.

‘We have so many visitors coming in and getting inspired with our designs,’ she says.

But the whole block along Sussex, built in the 1800's is in drastic need of repair.  So Richard Robinson and the rest of the tenants will have to relocate early next year for more than a year while the National Capital Commission (NCC) carries out those repairs. At the same time, it plans to construct a two-storey building at 7 Clarence to be used as a pavilion for Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017.

‘They are reaching a point in their lifecycle,’ says Dr. Mark Kristmanson, the Chief Executive Officer of the NCC, ‘where they need a major reinvestment to keep those heritage assets for the future so we are tackling this as one project and we’re hoping to see a distinguished result for 2017.’

The tenants understand the need for the renovations but are worried what it will mean for them.

‘We are a little concerned,’ says designer Richard Robinson, ‘about the way it will work.  People are used to seeing us here and they’ve seen us here for a long time and now we’re moving.  I don’t know.’

The Robinsons say the NCC has helped them relocate to the third floor of a building at 100 Sparks Street. Other tenants are scrambling to find a spot to set up shop with the same kind of exposure as Sussex.  Julie Thibault has been on Sussex in the same shop for ten years and worries what this move will do to her business.

‘They (the NCC) have proposed a relocation that had zero Sussex frontage in the back of a building,’ says Thibault inside her shop where she designs children’s clothes, ‘where I would lose sixty percent of my traffic off the bat.’

It has been a struggle for businesses along that Sussex strip for years with construction on the street, then scaffolding covering the building. 

In July, McCaffrey Haute Couture bridal shop shut down after 18 years in business. Owner David McCaffrey blamed it in part on the NCC.

‘They boarded us up, closed us down,’ said McCaffrey during an exclusive interview with CTV Ottawa in July, ‘you might as well be in jail.  Then we lost all our business.’

The National Capital Commission maintains the repairs are unavoidable and the relocation temporary.

‘For those that go back,’ says Dr. Kristmanson, ‘they will have a state of the art heritage space on Sussex drive when the building is completed.’

The Robinsons plan to return to their site along Sussex once the repairs are done.  Their school will continue and so, too, will Richard Robinson’s custom designs.  But the storefront shop selling the ready-to-wear collection will disappear with the move slated for February.