Two blocks of Grand Forks’ Market Avenue will close to vehicle traffic on June 29 for three months, as the downtown businesses experiment with a pedestrian-only strip through the city’s core.
The purpose […] is to give businesses the opportunity to use the sidewalks and parking areas for expansion of their business, while maintaining the main street as a walkway,” said Sarah Dinsdale, marketing coordinator for the Boundary Country Regional Chamber of Commerce (BCRCC).
The approved plan will see the street closed to traffic in two stretches: from 2nd Street through to 3rd Street, and from 3rd Street through to 4th Street. Through traffic will be allowed to cross Market on 3rd Street.
While city staff and the chamber say they looked at simply setting off some parking spaces to businesses to expand their patios, it was deemed to be safer to simply shut down the entire street to traffic, though emergency vehicles and necessary deliveries can still access the road.
“I think it’s an excellent idea,” said Coun. Christine Thompson at the June 15 regular meeting. “I think you have to do this […] – it may have some bumps and hiccups along the way, but I think that in the summer […] it’s an opportunity for local business to attract business.”
Currently retailers and restaurants are forced to maintain strict social distancing requirements, which cuts down on the number of patrons they’re allowed to welcome in. By opening up the sidewalks and parking spaces to expanded displays and patios, they’re hoping to increase their business, Dinsdale said.
Dinsdale said that the chamber would be checking in with businesses through the summer to evaluate the success of the pilot project, following visitor rates, sales, and using a public survey to gauge uptake. Market Avenue business owners from Jogas, The Wooden Spoon, The Board Room Café, Thistle Pot Gifts and The Source, among others, endorsed the idea in a letter to council.
“It’s going to be on the businesses to make it work,” said Jeff Fero, president of the BCRCC.
Coun. Chris Moslin, who was the only councillor to vote against the motion, spoke apprehensively about the idea, noting that Market Avenue has been relatively quiet recently.
“I really think it’s a bit of overkill,” he said, “in the sense that we have very few people downtown right now. I’m not sure that giving very few people a lot more room is going to bring more people.” Moslin emphasized the need for reported numbers to demonstrate the success of the closure. His thoughts were echoed by Coun. Rod Zielinski, who voted by default to approve the project.
“When this comes in front of us next year, without those stats and it’s just a good feeling, that’s not going to work for me. I’m going to want to see more,” Zielinski said.
Coun. Zak Eburne-Stoodley recused himself from the decision, while Coun. Neil Krog was absent from the meeting.