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Barbara Maly

Downtown London (a.k.a. London Downtown Business Association) is a Business Improvement Area (BIA) that represents a thriving, progressive, and welcoming business district in the core of the city. The people that own businesses, visit, work, learn, and live in the district are the essence of its vibrancy and diversity.

Our mission is to represent and support our business members and foster a strong and prosperous downtown in the economic and cultural heart of the city. This includes adding vibrancy to downtown by supporting and leading downtown events, activations, beautification, and public art projects. Additionally, we maintain downtown public spaces above and beyond what the municipality is responsible for.

We are a collective voice for our members. We support their business success by marketing and promoting downtown as a business, shopping, and cultural hub full of experiences unparalleled anywhere in the city, attracting Londoners and visitors from far and wide.

Tell us about yourself?

My career journey started very differently from what I do today. After graduating from the University of Guelph, my career started in the food industry at Nabisco and Kraft, where I was a Food Scientist and Agri-Food Researcher for 13 years.

I then moved into business development, consulting, and marketing management roles at the Guelph Food Technology Centre for six years. It was here that I found my passion and love for supporting the growth and development of entrepreneurs and small businesses.

Following my time at GFTC, I began to work for the City of Guelph’s Economic Development Services Department as their Agri-food and Life Science Business Development Specialist. I supported the advancement of our local economy by helping to create the conditions for local and international businesses to invest, grow, and succeed in Guelph. During my 14-year tenure at the City, I held progressive leadership roles, leaving my position as Manager of Economic Development to join Downtown London in 2020.

The things I have enjoyed most throughout my career are meeting new people and learning about the work they do and the businesses they run, bringing diverse connections together in my network, and helping grow strong communities and local economies…. And that is exactly what we do here at Downtown London every day.

If you could go back in time a year or two, what piece of advice would you give yourself?

I started at Downtown London three weeks prior to the initial global COVID-19 lockdown in 2020. Like many of us, I did not have any idea that COVID-19 lockdowns and the impacts that followed were going to be my very first challenge coming out of the gate. Despite what short and long-term plans I had for the organization, they immediately went to the back burner.

For the rest of that year and into 2021, I needed to make the right decisions for the organization and our members in a quick and responsive manner without a lot of time for planning, which is somewhat outside of my comfort zone. That said, COVID-19 allowed me to be more comfortable with taking calculated risks. It also reinforced for me the power of “team and community” and their ability to help hold one another up in challenging times.

So the advice I would have given myself a few years ago is to embrace uncertainty and see it as an opportunity for personal growth.

What problem does your business solve?

Downtown London

Downtown London is uniquely positioned to speak as a catalyst for positive change and the voice of the downtown business community.

We assist our members to achieve success through promotion, programming, and advocacy with a focus on the common good of the membership.

We also work with many community partners and anchors in our city to break down silos and identify solutions to new and ongoing challenges while achieving shared goals that not only reflect and impact downtown but the entire city.

What is the inspiration behind your business?

The diversity of our beautiful downtown – its heritage which we continue to build upon, and all that we have in store for its future is what inspires us!

London’s downtown is truly unique and has many one-of-a-kind shops, high-end retail stores, and some of the city’s top salons and spas. We are the largest restaurant district in the city, offering a variety of diverse and ethnic-based culinary and dining experiences, with plenty of patio locations during the warmer seasons.

Covent Garden Market has been a cornerstone in our downtown since 1845 as our community farmer’s market of locally sourced produce and prepared foods and a gathering spot for many events and festivals. Other unique features in downtown include a number of parks, trails, and green spaces at the Thames River and Victoria Park.

It is also not surprising that London has received the UNESCO designation as Canada’s only City of Music with the vast entertainment and cultural scenes we have downtown, including landmark locations such as Budweiser Gardens, Grand Theatre, Wolf Performance Hall, London Music Hall, and so many others. These iconic venues, plus the many music festivals and street concerts that pop up throughout the year, draw hundreds of thousands of people and visitors from across the city and far afield.

Finally, downtown is also home to two satellite campuses, Fanshawe College and Western University’s campuses, where students are immersed in London’s arts, culture, media, arts, tourism, hospitality, culinary arts, and information technology.

What is your magic sauce?

Downtown London
Downtown London Market

Collaboration! The work we do is really a collaborative effort with our business members and other key partners and anchors in our community. We work with so many diverse partners where our common vision and goals align. Our organization looks for these collaborative opportunities, both with existing and new partnerships. We recognize that coming together to work on projects and issues will have a greater impact and reach than trying to tackle them on our own.

What is the plan for the next 5 years? What do you want to achieve?

In 2021, we initiated our next five-year plan, which has four strategic directions. Our first goal is to foster a welcoming, safe, and vibrant downtown, which can be seen through a lot of the work we do with our partners – such as putting on events and activating our streets.

We are also focused on diversifying our economic base, such as supporting residential growth efforts and carrying out economic development initiatives to help retain and expand existing businesses while recruiting new businesses to start and grow their businesses downtown. Although we are a BIA, our district’s residential population is extremely important to us as it is expected to grow at an unprecedented rate over the next 15 to 20 years.

Another key goal is to create and maintain strong member engagement and support. We will continue to provide promotional support to our members and deploy the appropriate resources that will help our members succeed.

Lastly, we will continue to be the champion, catalyst, and liaison for the downtown district. We are focused on bringing light to the economic powerhouse and the cultural hub that our district is, and we plan to continue to foster and leverage partnerships that will further advance that growth.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?

When I started with Downtown London, my family and I had not yet relocated to the area because we were having a new house built here while also getting our home in Guelph ready to put on the market.

As I mentioned above, I was three weeks into the job when COVID-19 completely turned those plans around as well. Long story short, we moved three times before our house was finally constructed, and we permanently landed in our community at the end of 2020.

As a new leader to the organization, commuting between cities during COVID-19’s social distancing restrictions and virtual meetings, it was a challenge to connect on a personal level with my board, staff, members, and the community. Now that restrictions are lifted, I have been able to make those deeper connections, which has truly helped me feel more and more a part of this community each and every day.

How can people get involved?

If you are looking to learn more about living or locating a business in downtown London; or looking for an exciting event, concert, or festival, or to find unique shops, restaurants, salons, spas, or other business services in downtown, please check out our website or email us at