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Saint John businesses say city needs to look more inviting to attract Atlantic bubble tourists

An empty flower bed in Kings Square in Saint John, N.B.
An empty flower bed in Kings Square in Saint John, N.B. Tim Roszell/Global News

Businesses in uptown Saint John say the city was wrong to not plant flowers and maintain green spaces this year.

They say the community lacks visual appeal to tourists now making their way to the region under loosened COVID-19 restrictions.

Liz Miller has owned Good Fibrations textile shop on Germain Street for about six years. She said she was disappointed when she did not see flowers being planted outside her store, and others in the uptown, as she had in previous years.

She said it’s difficult to attract people to the core of the city when it doesn’t look its best.

“It’s sad,” Miller said. “And I’ve heard a lot of people who don’t own shops say the same thing. It looks sad and it looks derelict a little bit.”

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Miller closed her storefront during the pandemic and shifted to online sales and curbside pickup. She said it was “creepy” how quiet things got in the uptown area, but she said she did not expect the city to forego flower planting.

She said the feeling among small businesses was that the city was abandoning them.

“Well, there’s not going to be any cruise ships,” she said. “Well, yeah. What are we? Chopped liver? (We were hoping) there was going to be an Atlantic bubble and we wanted to welcome those visitors into our city, and the city didn’t look good.”

David Duplisea, the CEO of The Chamber, said he’s hearing similar concerns from several businesses. Saint John’s business improvement association, Uptown Saint John, has planted wildflowers in many of the large, round cauldron planters uptown, but most of the flower beds remain empty and are now a collection of weeds and garbage.

“The term I’m hearing most often… There doesn’t seem to be a sense of pride,” Duplisea said. “And a lot of people that live here and work here and have businesses here, they’re proud of their city and they don’t see that being reflected when they come into town to venture out, to start to do some shopping.”

Saint John councillor Donna Reardon, who lives in and represents the uptown area, said the budget for things like flower planting and grasscutting was eliminated in April, as the pandemic was taking hold in New Brunswick. She said the decision was made, in part, due to an expected revenue shortfall at Saint John Transit due to COVID-19. She said it was a difficult move to make, but one she supported at the time and would again.

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But she said there is an opportunity to make the city more visually appealing to tourists making their way to the city as part of the so-called Atlantic bubble.

“So that’s why we’ve said we can try to partner with businesses,” Reardon said. “What can we do? So now we’re sort of trying to look at what can be done at this point in time to try to get some of that work done. But things have been sort of just trickling out as we’ve been going along.”

Duplisea said his membership is willing to work with the city to find solutions.

Reardon said a collaborative approach may be the norm for the near future as Saint John tries to navigate through $10-million deficits in 2021 and 2022.