Merritton Development Update #4

I 've occasionally been rough on Hartzel Road.You know, stuff like the sign of the road's apocalypse will be when a lube shop closes.Then there was the piece a year ago that noted a McDonald's franchise on Hartzel was shutting its doors.That's right. A McDonald's.
Truth be told, my penchant for treating Hartzel like a pinata bothers me from time to time.
Fortunately, the feeling passes rather quickly.
Still, I'm always looking for ways to make amends.
Thus, my interest when cruising through Merritton recently to see protective plastic sheeting around the Dairy Queen store at Hartzel and Oakdale Avenue. (Yeah, I know it's actually Merritt Street, not Hartzel, at this point on the asphalt artery, but let's not quibble.)
Clearly, some work was being done on the building.
If I had considered it news when a McDonald's was closing, essentially because the franchise owner didn't believe the costs associated with a required renovation were worth the investment, surely I was obligated to report on an apparent positive development at another fast-food joint on the strip.
Darn tootin' I was. To the Dairy Queen!
Behind the counter ready to take my order was Dimitrios Ladas. He's also the franchise owner.
I explained my mission and we sat down at a table to chat.
Turns out the 27-year-old Ladas has had an impeccable educational upbringing, following the same Briardale, Oakridge, Sir Winston Churchill school path as my kids.
You go Briardale Bulldogs!
Ladas then attended Brock University where he took political science and kinesiology.
The study of human kinetics naturally led to a desire to sell milkshakes and banana splits.
Well, I guess there was a little more to it than that.
His uncle Walt Marsh had Merritton's DQ franchise for years.
The first was a walk-up ice-cream joint on Hartzel beside where the MoneyMart is now.
In 1992, he bought the current building, which over the years had housed various incarnations of service stations and gas bars.
Five years ago, Marsh asked if Ladas was interested in taking over the franchise.
Do kids like chocolate sundaes?
Ladas, along with his brother Louis, were on board.
OK, enough with background. What's the scoop, so to speak, with store renovations?
His franchise contract with the DQ corporation required Ladas to re-invest a certain amount of dough into the operation by 2011. He decided to exceed the requirement and make the changes early.
The facelift affects both the exterior and interior of the building.
The outside has been stuccoed, new signage is coming as are other facade improvements and the parking lot will be upgraded. The inside has been painted, new menu boards are up and new countertops and seating are coming.
Alright, let's get to the nub of the matter.
Ladas figures the renovations are costing him $150,000. As noted, the store is on the occasionally maligned Hartzel Road/Merritt Street.
Ever consider not making the investment, and bailing out?
"Never crossed my mind," said Ladas. "We've built a very good rapport with our local customers.
"And the location's great. I'm very happy with it."
Indeed, he said he is "fully dedicated" to the Merritton community, willing to help out whenever he can.
Hey, why not? He grew up on Jacobson Avenue by the Pen, considered Greater Merritton in certain small circles.
Anyway, things are looking up for businesses in this neck of the woods. A new fire hall will be built behind the DQ store within a couple of years and the city is pushing for a residential subdivision to be developed on the old Domtar steam plant lands in the same area.
And so what if the McDonald's closed? Hartzel Road has shown resiliency before.
The old Harvey's hamburg joint is now a Thai restaurant. The Leon's closed and a new furniture store moved in. Same thing when the Ford dealership shut its doors; another car lot opened for business.
And if a lube shop closed on Hartzel ... ah, who am I trying to alarm?
That would never happen.

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