Vernon’s Main Street won’t be closed to vehicular traffic to encourage pedestrian shopping amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
After learning around 66 per cent of 30th Avenue businesses were against the road closure, the City of Vernon councillors voted in favour of the majority, accepting the report as information only.
The Downtown Vernon Association (DVA) surveyed its members on the potential closure between 29th and 35th streets, which was being considered as a supportive initiative to bolster economic recovery linked to the novel coronavirus.
City staff recommended council dismiss the idea as “this is a challenging and uncertain time for businesses and closing 30th Avenue could add further pressure to merchants as they adapt to provincial health orders regarding social distancing,” the report reads.
“I feel like we shouldn’t just throw the baby out with the bathwater,” Coun. Dalvir Nahal said, noting perhaps there is an opportunity to do something in the evenings and on weekends.
“I believe the DVA is interested in pursuing that route as well,” she said at the June 22 meeting. “Businesses may want to change their mind if they see how successful it is.”
“We shouldn’t discount this altogether.”
Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming suggest the DVA canvass their membership and see what could be advantageous for merchants.
“We’ll wait until we have those details,” he said.
Coun. Akbal Mund and Scott Anderson said 66 per cent of surveyed businesses not in favour of the road closure can’t be ignored.
“Right now, frankly, it’s probably not the best time,” Anderson said.
Nahal said she’s hopeful the DVA will return next summer and say, “let’s try it.”
Vernon council had previously passed resolutions to allow businesses to use outdoor space temporarily to expand patios into parking stalls and private parking lots. Since its approval May 25, six temporary outdoor commercial use permits have been issued to downtown businesses including Marten Brew Pub, Triumph Coffee, Vernon Teach and Learn, Sweet Hoopla and more.
Ratio Coffee and the Kal Sports Bar expanded seating into its private parking lots.
City administration will be watching as permits are issued and maintain communication with the DVA and downtown merchants to see what additional measures the City of Vernon should explore to aid in recovery efforts.
Other municipalities are doing it
Meanwhile, the City of Kelowna will close a portion of a busy downtown roadway to transform it into a pedestrian mall.
Bernard Avenue will be closed from the Sails sculpture to St. Paul Street between June 29 and Sept. 8 to help downtown businesses expand patios and displays to maintain provincially ordered physical distancing requirements.
Intersections at cross streets will remain open to through traffic.
“There are going to be some people who are pleasantly surprised who perhaps right now isn’t fully on board,” Mayor Colin Basran said.
Salmon Arm council voted unanimously June 22 to support its downtown association’s request to transform Alexander Street into a pedestrian mall on Saturdays, despite opposition.
The pilot project will see the road closed between Hudson Avenue to Lakeshore between 7-4 p.m. starting July 4 until Sept. 5.
Downtown Salmon Arm (DSA) also requested alcohol be permitted in the public space.
Salmon Arm Mayor Alan Harrison would like businesses to look at this as an opportunity.
“It will let people know what a wonderful place our downtown is and they will come back and try it out.”
Some businesses, however, said proper consultation was not done before the DSA brought the request to City Hall.
Shuswap Clothing and Shoe Company’s Gerald Forman said the pedestrian-only traffic could be detrimental to business.
“I am not sure if council is aware of how long it takes to build a relationship with customers and how one wrong move can send them other places to shop. Trying to get them back can take years if they ever return…,” he wrote in a letter to councillors.
– with Black Press files