HALIFAX – Business owners downtown near the Nova Centre construction site say street closures at the height of the holiday retail season is hitting them hard.
There have been a series of street closures in the areas of Sackville, Prince and Market streets throughout the project. However, the most recent closure on Market Street between Prince and Sackville Streets was slated to last three weeks until December 18.
“It’s the height of retail season for the holidays and it’s kind of really bad timing,” said Sam Shannon, a staff member at Inkwell Boutique, which is located on Market Street.
The closure began last Friday, and local businesses say they noticed an immediate impact on their bottom line.
“The first day they actually closed the streets down, my business partner Christine Bower called me and she goes, ‘Oh my God Lil I’m here and there’s no one here,'” said Lil MacPherson, the co-owner of the Wooden Monkey restaurant next to the construction site.
“She was in tears. If this is the way it’s going to go we’re in trouble.”
MacPherson says sales have been slipping since construction began on the convention centre about three years ago. There has been limited parking downtown and foot track is noticeably slower.
“It’s a real labyrinth to get here so they’re really facing a lot. I mean it’s really annoying; there’s no place to park, they put pylons everywhere,” she said.
“They say the walking traffic is down 25 to 35 per cent in this area all of us. That’s a significant amount of people that aren’t coming back downtown.”
Local councillor Waye Mason has been working with the businesses and on Friday, confirmed they had spoken to the developer and reached an agreement.
“I’m really happy to say that it looks like Prince Street will be paved Saturday or Sunday night and that Market Street will be paved Wednesday, Thursday, Friday next week,” he said.
“It’s not going to be 21 days, it’s going to be four or five more days and we’re all very grateful this is being expedited once the realization sunk in about how injurious is was to the businesses.”
But Mason questions why the city would even offer a permit to close a street for such an extended period of time during the busy holiday season.
“You’re basically dooming those businesses if you take away their ability to access Christmas sales. We need to give our head a shake and have a good rethink about when we allow streets to be closed,” he said.
Mason plans to ask council to direct staff to complete a requested mitigation report by January 26, 2016. As well, he will ask for a separate report to look into whether businesses can receive compensation for their losses.
Meanwhile, downtown businesses are doing everything they can to attract shoppers to the area. Inkwell Boutique has started the Halifax Pylon Club, a lighthearted campaign that aims to reward shoppers for choosing to shop local.
“We wanted to really thank customers for coming in and braving the construction you know jumping over pylons because you see the ‘road closed’ sign. These people are coming down despite that,” said Shannon.
Inkwell Boutique is handing out buttons with the Halifax Pylon Club logo and inviting other businesses to join the campaign. Shoppers who visit will receive deals and perks throughout the holiday season.
“It’s kind of a lighthearted and fun way to make the best of our situation.”
Other business owners in the city are seeing the need, and opening up space to businesses affected by the construction woes.
Fred Connors, owner of FRED hair salon on the corner of Agricola and North Streets, is opening his space up for local, small business owners to “Pop-Up” during the Christmas season.
“I know as our friends downtown are struggling with the lack of availability of parking, road closures and a basic disaster zone,” he told Global news.
“I thought some of those entrepreneurs may benefit from a secondary space because when you have abundance you should share it and we have a lot of space and I just wanted to make room for them.”
From December 12-23, small business owners are welcome to use his space for free to set up temporary “Pop-Up” shops.
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