By David F. Rooney
Small business owners who recently complained about their inability to attract customers won an opportunity last week to not only talk about their problems but perhaps even guide municipal policy in the years to come.
“We have our own agenda and you have your own agenda,” City Planner John Guenther told the owners of nine downtown businesses, some of them from the commercial black hole that exists along First Street East beyond Orton Avenue, who attended the inaugural meeting of the City’s new Downtown Business Section Neighbourhood Committee.
Guenther’s words may have sounded a little ominous but they neatly delineated the issue that separate business and government: they are different kinds of entities that, while they may share certain concerns and problems, exist to serve the community in different ways. Having suggested that, though, Guenther was open to a full and frank discussion.
“We’ve said there are no holds barred,” he told the men and women who met at the Community Centre last Thursday.
Some of the complaints, such as Rayni Motiuk’s lament that her building’s ugliness may be part of the reason there is little foot traffic, cannot be directly resolved by the City as that is a landlord’s responsibility. Still, Guenther was upbeat about the City’s ability to help even with like that.
“We have an Enhancement Committee,” he said. “We also have a Development Review Committee and we have an advocacy program… this could be part of that discussion.”
Agnes Kowalczuk of The Cabin said the City should be doing what it can to help small business. For instance, she and her partner Troy would like to improve the facade of their building, once a gas station and then, later, a bowling alley and now a kind of mini-mall that contains a bowling alley, a clothing store and a bar, as well as local art for sale on its walls. However, the designs they have sent to the City have simply been deied with no constructive feedback.
“It seems they don’t tell you why you’re denied,” she said. “It’s just not helpful.”
Guenther said he would gladly talk with them about their designs.
He also assured the business owners that the City wants to assist them in positive ways, one of which will be through an advocacy program that will be unveiled at a community meeting in June.
Councillor Peter Frew said he would like to see “more colour back in the area,” by planting new trees or flowers.
Businesses on the east side of MacKenzie were also keen to see the City build a new brick advertising signage at Orton and Victoria.
Frew said that the land that would be needed for that is owned by Canadian Pacific Railway. It might be possible to reach an agreement with the CPR and, if that happens, the City could build it. However, businesses would have to commit to ad space leases of between three and five years in or der to pay for it.
Mayor David Raven told the assembled merchants that the City wants to improve its relationship with business.
“We have a new communications policy,” he said. “A process like this is part of our communications strategy.”
In the end, the merchants agreed to form a committee that, like the City’s other neighbourhood committees, will provide Council with advice regarding development. The members of the committee are: Paola Bolton of Emo’s, chairwoman; Jerry Chouinard of Eco-cents, vice-chairman; Kayle Robson of Benoit’s Wine Bar, note-taker; Agnes Kowalczuk of The Cabin; Benoit Doucet, of Benoit’s Wine Bar; David Evans of the Nickelodeon Museum; Dinah Collette of the Spice o’ Life Emporium; Gwen Lips of Castle Joe Books; and Rayni Motiuk of Re Psyched.
Their next meeting is Wednesday, May 26, from 3 until 4:30 pm at the Community Centre.