Plans for downtown revitalization continue to touch a sore nerve with business owners that feel they’ve been left out of the consultation process and that the revitalization program might actually harm their businesses.
The defining issue is the availability of parking, or the lack of it, and how it will affect business along the highway.
“The three rules of a successful retail business are location, location, location,” said Wayne Brown, owner of Process 4 Gallery. “And if you don’t have parking, you don’t have location.”
Brown has been running his gallery, frame shop, art supplies and gift shop for more than 35 years. He acknowledges that the town may eventually offer the same number of parking spots when the revitalization is complete, but if those spaces are not as convenient as they currently are with customers able to pull over in front of his shop, then his business will be negatively affected.
Some have pointed to the parking he has available behind his shop, but Brown says that by doing that one only show how little he or she understands the challenges of running a retail storefront.
“People are driving by and they’ll notice my storefront window display and pull over with street side parking [out front],” Brown said. “They won’t drive to Home Hardware and then find their way back. It’s too late by then.”
Previously vehicles were able to make a turn around the block to get back to his store, but they’re now unable to since Government Street was blocked off beside the Health in Order store, across from the Royal Bank on the highway.
Helen Finch, owner and operator of Redfern’s, is resigned to the inevitable loss of parking along the highway. Currently, trucks with campers or boat trailers attached are able to pull over to the side of the street so that they can pop in on their way through town. There is a small amount of parking behind her store, but it could never accommodate a larger vehicle with even a small trailer.
She isn’t optimistic that much can be done to address her concerns for parking. Finch was separating sticky fresh cinnamon rolls from a baking sheet when she summed up here thoughts on the issue. “These decisions were put into motion long ago,” she said. Her business is up for sale, but it is likely that a lack of street side parking won’t help with the sale.
Travis Warkentin, manager of the Real Canadian Wholesale Club in Burns Lake and owner of Gone Hollywood, the town’s only video rental store, has been vocal in his concerns, most recently making them known at the village town hall meeting on Nov. 13. The impression he gets from discussions with the village and other businesses is that there isn’t much room for reconsideration of changes to the parking management plans for the downtown core. “I feel like they’ve already made up there mind, so we’re kinda screwed,” he said.
“I don’t understand how the village can take away spots when our business licenses stipulate that we have a certain amount of spots,” said Warkentin.
He’s aware that the village has plans to offer at least as much parking as before once environmental remediation is complete at the former Shell station site. “But people aren’t going to park at the post office to come get a video,” he said.
Construction this fall hurt Warkentin’s business. Even though the paving contractors tried to accommodate local businesses by working after seven in the evening, Gone Hollywood is open until 10 p.m., and attracts a lot of evening customers.
Warkentin described one Friday evening that was particularly disruptive when work was being done right out front of Gone Hollywood’s doorstep. Regular customers stayed away. “I had a few people come in, but I lost about $400 in sales in one evening,” he said.
During construction this fall, Brown reported a 40 per cent drop in business over the same time period last year, but he acknowledged that construction wasn’t necessarily the only factor. A sluggish economy doesn’t help anyone he said, but that’s why businesses need as much in their favour as possible. And removing parking doesn’t help.
“Nobody has come to ask me what my needs or experience is, and I’ve been running this shop for 35 years,” he said.
Other storefronts along the highway didn’t feel any negative effects from the construction. Gwyn Nicholas, owner of the Health in Order store said that she hadn’t noticed any disruptions with customers, but she also pointed out that there was parking available out back of her store.
The larger concern that some business owners still wrestle with is the sense that the revitalization plan has proceeded without full consultation on everyone involved.
“I feel like they’ve already made up their minds,” said Warkentin.
Brown echoes Warkentin’s sentiment. “I get the sense that the final decisions have been made and that there’s no room for changes or compromise,” he said.
While both agree with and support the work that is being done to beautify the downtown by installing new streetlights and redoing the roads, they don’t understand how some of the decisions will enhance Burns Lake in the eye of a potential business owner.
“Taking the parking away from downtown isn’t going to attract any new businesses, that’s for sure,” Warkentin said.
Construction is slated to begin again in the spring of 2013. Businesses along the highway would be more comfortable with the inevitable disruption to their businesses if they felt like there was a benefit in the long run.
Brown is also concerned that without a commitment from Shell on its remediation plans, the village will have its hands tied with regard to how quickly new parking can be made available.
At a recent village council meeting Rick Martin, Operations Manager for the Village of Burns Lake, said that there was very little he could do to speed up the remediation. “It’s their property,” he said. “And Shell is not on board.”