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Aug. 11, 2020 | Tuesday
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Businesses have mixed opinions on Queen Street closure
Paul Dickson, owner of Irish Design, said Saturday was one of the worst days in 33 years for the business. (Richard Harley)

Some hate it, some quite like it and some think it needs more time.

Business owners in downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake have mixed opinions about Queen Street being closed to traffic on weekends.

The trial run of the street closure continued this past weekend, after being shut down on Canada Day last week.

Paul Dickson, owner of Irish Design, said the shop saw its worst Saturday sales in 33 years, even compared to the winter low season.

“I've never had a Saturday like that, ever. And that's that's raw data from yesterday,” he said during an interview Sunday, noting he didn't compare the numbers, but knows what his typical business is like.

“I’m not in favour of closing the street. It's very clear why, you know, this affects my business, my customers. My customer base is based on the cars coming in. I think it's an experiment that was probably worthwhile trying but you know, I would like to see it reopened.”

He said he’s also concerned about people who live on Queen Street, including five of his own tenants.

“I have an 85-year-old lady who lives upstairs who has been asked to walk four blocks to get her car on three days out of seven this week. I think that's not fair,” he said.

He said he’d like to see the town try closing the street when there’s not a pandemic going on.

“We've had enough trauma for one year at the moment.”

He added he doesn’t see any issue with social distancing on Queen Street, even without the closure.

Anne Kurtz, owners of Kurtz Culinary Creations, had a different Saturday, saying it was her busiest day since the pandemic began in March.

She said it’s just too early to tell if the street closure had anything to do with it.

“I don't think it's necessarily attributable to Queen Street and its closure,” she said Sunday during an interview.

“And scientifically, you can't make a judgment call. The fact is that you need more facts before you can make such a determination. It's called, in my old days of studying marketing research, statistical analysis — you need more data before you can come to any such conclusion. We're only in day two of our street closure, so it's way too early to determine that.”

She noted that though it was the best day since the pandemic, sales are “drastically short of what is normal and what is able to pay the rent.”

Despite it being too early to see the business impact, she’s in favour of the closure as far as social distancing goes.

“I’m certainly very, very grateful that the street is closed for safety purposes alone. Because as a business, you don't want to go backwards. You don't want what has happened in the States to happen to us,” she said.

“I think we've done the responsible thing, if but only for safety reasons. And that's why I think it should continue.”

Peter Earle, owner of Halley’s Fashion for Men, said he too thinks it’s too early to make a judgment call, but noted several things that he thinks need to be ironed out to help people understand what the purpose of the closure is.

“It's not a road closure. It's a pedestrian opening, it's a walkabout, it's a street experience, it's an intimate shopping experience. That's what it is, so that's way you put it. You say, 'Come on down to Niagara-on-the-Lake for an intimate shopping experience on old Queen Street.’ ”

Earle said he’s not “for or against” the closure, but if the town does decide to continue with it, he thinks there should elements added to support the overall experience.

“Whether you do some buskers or something like that, you have to kind of complete the package, whatever that is. That takes a plan,” Earle said.

He noted the street being open to pedestrians does hurt some businesses.

“You've got lots of businesses that if the crowd goes to the centre, it hurts us. And that's really a conundrum.”

Carlotta Cantini, owner of Il Gelato di Carlotta, said she thinks there needs to be more messaging to tell people the businesses are open and inform people that the closure is to promote a safe environment.

She was particularly upset by signage saying the road was closed for an emergency.

“Are you kidding me? It's a joke," she said. "I had some friends of mine that said, 'We were thinking that everybody was closed, so we turned the car and we left.’ So, it's very, very scary, a town message like this.”

Dickson also said he thinks the signage was an “oversight” by the town.

“I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt there,” he said.

Earle said he thinks people have been enjoying the concept of the closure and the social-distancing aspect.

“Anytime you increase space in this environment, you're going to improve the distancing and that sort of thing. And that's, that's a good thing. I mean, that's a health and safety issue right now. That's really appropriate. But any plan needs to be conceived and then detailed against all of its audiences, including, and most importantly, the customer.”

He said details need more thought because people coming to NOTL have other options for day trips.

Anita Bates, manager of Olde Tyme Candy Shoppe, said she’s in favour opening the street to pedestrians.

“I love the road closure," she said. "Except the sign scared some people away.”

She said she isn't sure if the closure had an impact on business, though.

“It’s hard to say, because since we reopened, every week it's a little bit busier, so I’m not sure if it's just (the closure). But there seems to be a lot more people outside when I look out,” she said.

John Paraskevopoulos, owner of Gyros on the Lake, said he doesn’t think there are enough people on the streets to justify a closure.

“It defeats the purpose,” he said, noting that he’d prefer to see parking spaces closed instead of street traffic.

He said he’s seen less business during the closure hours, partly because people aren’t on the sidewalks as much and partly because locals seem to be avoiding the street.

“They seem to avoid it because the parking is limited as well,” he said.

“When you have people on the sidewalk, they see your business, they smell the food, they see the menu. Everybody has their menus outside. They're looking, they come in. When they walk in the middle of the road, they lose that effect.”

Kim Gauld, owner of Sunset Grill, was on the street passing out surveys to see how the closure has affected businesses.

She said so far businesses are saying they haven't seen a bump in sales.

“I feel like they struggled with the shutdown yesterday with the wrong signage up,” she said.

“The parking hasn't been advertised as well as it could, so it's made it a lot more confusing. And unfortunately, most of the retailers I'm talking to haven't found that it's increased their sales.”

She said she was hoping for more from the closure and suggested the town could do a marketing campaign to explain that the street is open to visitors.

The closure has been effective in terms of social distancing, she said, but business-wise it hasn’t had much of an effect on Sunset Grill either.

 

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