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Former downtown bingo hall reborn as a heath-care hub

Cathy Dobson A vacant downtown building at 153 Christina St. South will soon be a bustling health-care hub.
Paul Smith, owner of BioPed Footwear & Orthotics.Cathy Dobson
Paul Smith, owner of BioPed Footwear & Orthotics. Cathy Dobson

Cathy Dobson  

A vacant downtown building at 153 Christina St. South will soon be a bustling health-care hub.

Owner Jim Pumple is investing approximately $1 million into reconstruction the one-storey building that has been a bowling alley, a bingo hall and most recently belonged to The Observer.

Pumple bought 153 Christina and the adjacent Observer building at Front and Wellington streets five years ago. He redeveloped the Front Street building into upscale apartments and offices, but 153 Christina remained empty.

Pumple said he finally found tenants that he considers “a good fit.”

Val Winberg, of Twin Bridges Nurse Practitioner Led Clinic, and developer Jim Pumple.Cathy Dobson

In two weeks, BioPed Footcare & Orthotics will move its retail store and lab into the front 2,000-square-feet of the building.

Owner Paul Smith said he is relocating the business from Lambton Mall Road for several reasons, but mainly for the additional space.

BioPed is the only place in Sarnia where orthotics are made onsite and a larger lab is required, he said.

“The industry is growing as the population is getting older,” said Smith, a Canadian Certified Pedorthist. “And in Sarnia, we also see a lot of working adults who wear steel-toed boots 10 – 12 hours a day.”

Business was so brisk last year he hired Kevin McRae, another pedorthist.

The new BioPed location has rooms for a new footcare nurse and physiotherapist.

Smith’s only concern was a lack of downtown parking. But Pumple purchased and removed the empty house immediately south of 153 Christina for additional parking.

Twin Bridges Nurse Practitioner Led Clinic (NPLC) will occupy most of Pumple’s 10,000-square-foot building. It is currently in cramped quarters on Crawford Street.

To accommodate the tenants, Pumple gutted the building that dates to at least the 1950s.

“There were three ceiling layers and two wall layers,” he said.

Behind one wall was a dilapidated sign that read ‘Valley Lanes.’ Otherwise, there was little to reveal about the building’s past.

Local historian John Rochon found evidence it was called Graham’s Bowlaway in the 1950s, and later Echo Lanes.

By 1985, the building was known as Bluewater Auditorium where bingo was played seven days a week. The Observer purchased it around the turn of the century.

Twin Bridges NPLC plans to reopen June 1 at its new location with 18 staff members, including four full-time nurse practitioners. The Sarnia clinic is one of 25 in Ontario fully funded by the Ministry of Health to provide primary care.

Pumple is providing Twin Bridges twice the space the clinic currently occupies, and said he’s doing it without increasing the clinic’s rent.

Twin Lakes NPLC has a patient roster of 3,200 and offers a range of programs free to the public, including yoga, boot camps, meditation, and cooking classes.

Services will continue throughout the move, said executive director Val Winberg.

While many Twin Bridges programs are currently held offsite because of space restrictions, the new clinic will be large enough to consolidate everything at the one location.

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