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Aug. 7, 2020 | Friday
Editorials and Opinions
Letter: Frankie Sez: Now is time to redefine NOTL's tourism experience

Dear editor:

The following letter was sent to members of Niagara-on-the-Lake town council.

COVID-19 has exposed weakness and provided opportunity for accelerated change with planning and creativity from representative leaders and visionaries. Which path will the town council of Niagara-on-the-Lake take?

I wish to express strong sentiment against the closure of Queen Street for both my boutiques, Frankie Sez at 79 Queen and Valleverde at 55 Queen. I have been a merchant on Queen Street since 1994.

This closure was arranged in haste and now, on top of battling back to recover historical sales from COVID-19, we have been dealt another step backward with sales moving in the wrong direction, ie. negatively for the three days of street closure thus far.

1. Both of my boutiques sell apparel and a customer wants fast access in and out of the boutique, especially during this COVID-19 period.  Our core customer can no longer park near either boutique and is faced with a considerable walk. By virtue of diminished store traffic on the three closure dates, they have obviously foregone the visit.

2. It was poorly executed, with virtually no advance planning: If a retail shopper needs to walk from a distance, a core shuttle should have been implemented, especially for the older demographic.

3. The closure is catering to establishments that sell food and beverages, as those customers are willing to walk from their vehicles as they know they will be seated for a period of time to consume food and beverage. These establishments have already been catered to with the temporary erection of patios directly on the street or on their property. 

4. As a merchant, a qualitative assessment is constantly taking place as to the quality of the customers who visit Queen Street and the likelihood of garnering sales based on quality of customer. Without being scientific, the street closure favours a clientele that enjoys more of a carnival street atmosphere as opposed to a clientele that prefers a town that reflects a historical flare with modern amenities and forward merchants. The latter clientele arguably brings more potential disposable dollars to spend and is more discerning. The former is satisfied with a couple of drinks, some food and street entertainment. It's a slippery slope to careen into a busker-style street.

5. Visitation in both shops has been lower on closure days as pedestrians gravitate toward the centre of the street. For those selling physical goods, temptation will be to join the centre and patios and place products where the people are, in the centre. Lower-calibre visitors necessitates lower-calibre products and the spiral whirls to lower revenue, unable to cover top-tier rents based on goods and services delivered to top-tier consumers. This ultimately leads to Real estate devaluation and diminished tax revenue.

6. Two camps are emerging on Queen Street: Food and beverage and those selling physical goods. To join the food and beverage group, busking will be  required.

7. We are at a crossroads that can change the tenor and core constituent of visitors who come to Niagara-on-the-Lake. Once this trend is established it is very difficult to reverse.

What kind of customer would you like to see visiting Niagara-on-the-Lake?

Which path do you choose? Just because any town, anywhere has closed its main street, Niagara-on-the-Lake does not need to follow in lockstep with zero foresight and vision.

The other streets in any town, anywhere do not have the same physical attributes as Queen Street interwoven within a vibrant community, adjacent to waterfront, theatre and vineyards.

Why are we blindly following and risk altering our street negatively?

Niagara Falls is along the Parkway and in good times is vibrant with its constituent clientele. Does Niagara-on-the-Lake wish for the same type of visitor and busker streetscape? The residential areas directly adjacent to Niagara Falls are of a different quality than Niagara-on-the-Lake. 

Maybe Prideaux/Johnson Street residents can apply for multi-unit short-term stay rentals like those along the Parkway approaching Niagara Falls as they are newly designated thoroughfares.

Have you looked through the newly installed Queen Street cam to see what the street looks like to yourself? It looks like "trash," people eating ice cream curbside where cars should be parked.

If the Queen Street closure is contemplated for the future, it could benefit from looking at models in Paris and Sorrento. 

It requires a great deal of planning and infrastructure dollars to remodel the streetscape, physically enhancing it in a professional manner from the top down by town planners, urban designers, etc. 

There is merit to the approach if the town is willing to undertake and utilize taxes collected to invest in the Old Town, not to steal from it and ultimately finish it.

Simply closing the street is a one-way road to ruin.

Niagara-on the Lake can and must do better: Will the future promotional tourism poster for NOTL depict 2-by-4 lumber blockading the street with a backdrop of individuals sitting curbside on the sidewalk enjoying their ice cream on makeshift street patios? Or will it become a global model of new town relevance, extolling unique cultural, historical virtues married to its agricultural pursuits and viticulture?

A street with cobblestone paths, a mini amphitheatre for the Shaw Festival to conduct public interactive sessions between performances and co-shared by curated artists, singers and performers? Perhaps new novel retail structures interspersed in a purposeful design, accented with landscaping, patios, open areas, even seasonal retail in temporary venues/carts/winery/brewery tasting and sales (think Distillery District, Toronto) all supporting town revenue generation and a truly unique NOTL visitor experience?

With a true desire to close the street, the town-owned hospital can be redeveloped to house a majority of vehicle parking underground and above. Traffic would be routed away from residents, along 55, East West Line, to the Parkway and parkade,.with a short exciting walk to a rebooted Queen Street. 

The town desperately needs coherent vision and serious investment to maintain and foster discerning visitation to a special place. We are sitting at the precipice now. 

COVID has exposed our shortcomings and now affords NOTL, the opportunity to become a new model of global small town creativity, vibrancy and relevance. 

Without special attention it will wither like the winter grapes on a vine. Our town leaders and representatives are more relevant today than at any time in our recent history. We look forward to your inspiration that surpasses our own!


Frank Sisinni