KINGSTON — When Doug Ritchie first entered his office in January 1983, the lights weren’t working and the rotary phone had no dial tone.
Thirty-eight years later, Ritchie has stepped down from his position as managing director of the Downtown Kingston Business Improvement Area. During that time, the organization has grown from a one-man operation to an award-winning association comprising more than 700 downtown businesses and property owners.
As the first and only person to hold the position, Ritchie worked to revitalize and protect Kingston’s downtown core through numerous projects. He will advise the organization for the next six months as it transitions into new leadership.
General manager Michele Langlois will assume the responsibilities of executive director on an interim basis while the board of management searches for Ritchie’s replacement.
Ritchie said the decision to step down was “mutual” between him and the board. They were in discussions about his retirement as early as January. The start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March sped up the negotiations.
“I was already thinking that it was well time to go, and then we were locked down, and doing Zoom meetings, and I was sort of less and less comfortable in it,” Ritchie said. “I’m sort of a face-to-face guy.”
Of his many accomplishments, Ritchie recalls his contributions to the arts particularly fondly. He’s helped establish some of the city’s most popular summer events, such as Music in the Park, Movies in the Square, Kingston Buskers Rendezvous and FebFest.
Ritchie also remembers the Limestone City Blues Festival of 1999, when the headlining band cancelled with less than 48 hours’ notice. The crisis was resolved with The Tragically Hip filling in, Dan Aykroyd singing lead and Charlie Musselwhite playing harmonica.
“It was a disastrous Thursday night at 9 o’clock, and it was quite a success and celebration Saturday night at 9 o’clock,” Ritchie said. “It was fun to use culture, showbiz, to build our downtown.”
Ritchie also supported the redevelopment of Springer Market Square, the construction of the skating rink, the building of the Leon’s Centre and the renovation of the Grand Theatre.
In partnership with the Frontenac Heritage Foundation, Ritchie created the Heritage Week Awards to draw attention to the need to preserve Kingston’s traditional architecture and heritage buildings.
He also implemented an economic development program that helps guide the workings of the organization. In this vein, he facilitated several studies that were used to support new developments downtown.
“We were busy all the time for the good of downtown, and it was a noble cause,” Ritchie said. “Downtown is resilient and doing very well in dealing with COVID-19 and the ramifications on small businesses. Downtown’s gonna be OK.”
In retirement, Ritchie is looking forward to spending more time with his wife, children and grandchildren. So far, he is enjoying summer vacation — a concept unfamiliar to him since his start in the position.
He is also exploring the possibility of consulting, specifically in the realm of how businesses need to adapt to the realities of a post-pandemic downtown.
“I’m proud and happy,” Ritchie said. “It was a blast.”