The Downtown Business Association’s “Market on Market” initiative came under fire at a public meeting Tuesday, June 8. Several business owners said the street market, which shut down Market Avenue to vehicle traffic on May 15, should be scaled back after having been poorly attended.
In response, DBA Chair Deb Baker said the board will consider recommending changes to city council at its next regular meeting June 21.
Tuesday’s meeting was organized by the DBA’s John Zibin, who hosted the event outside his electronic store, The Source.
Joining Baker and former co-chair Alf Him were Coun. Christine Thompson and Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Duncan Redfearn, who’d come to field questions from the roughly 25 business owners in the audience.
Him started the meeting by quoting a March survey of 21 affected businesses, 75 per cent of whom said they supported the initiative. The idea was to allow businesses to expand outside amid COVID-19 restrictions that generally slowed business, he said.
“A majority of business owners would like to see many, many more events on Market Avenue,” he said. Baker then added that the DBA had planned “several different activities” for the market, qualifying that “some of them will not pan out.”
Of the many business owners who gave feedback, only one spoke unequivocally in favour of the market.
“I’ve noticed that when the market is up, my business improves considerably,” Barb Thate said. Thate, who owns Barb’s Mini Emporium on the northeast corner of 3rd Street and Market Avenue, then raised an issue of street parking. “Other than that, I’m totally in favour of it,” she said.
Most who spoke said that, while they appreciated the DBA’s vision, Market Avenue shouldn’t be closed to traffic seven days a week or at night, while others raised concerns about nighttime safety.
“I think it’s perhaps a little too much, too soon,” Cheryl Saviah, co-owner of Thistle Pot Gifts, said. Saviah later said that she’d been among the majority of businesses who supported the idea of a market, but is now frustrated that the DBA hadn’t delivered on the events she’d hoped would attract more foot traffic to the downtown core.
“They bought the cart before the horse,” she told The Gazette.
Barbershop and spa owner Karen Maynard said she felt unsafe closing The Hair Chair in the late evenings. Market Avenue is deserted at night, she said, adding that she’s been accosted by men asking her for money.
“I should feel safe leaving my business at 8:30 or 9 p.m.,” she said.
Market Avenue’s Roger Soviskov, Connie Lawrence and Bill Ladd said their businesses saw significant downturns since the market went up.
Lawrence, who owns the New West Trading Company, said, “my sales have been affected — amazingly so — since (Market Avenue) was closed,” she said, adding that her natural food products can’t be put outside.
Sales at Ladd’s Landmark Comics and Gifts dropped by half “the exact moment” that Market was closed, Ladd said.
“This isn’t working,” Soviskov said, adding that he’d recently cut back on staff hours because “sales are down and customers are upset.”
It steadily emerged that business owners wanted to see Market Avenue opened to vehicle traffic on some days of the week and in the evenings. CAO Redfearn said DBA volunteers could set up and take down the market, pending city council’s approval of a DBA resolution to that effect.
Zibin said he would bring business owners’ concerns and suggestions to the DBA’s next board meeting no later than Thursday, June 11. Baker said the board would then decide on how the market should proceed.