The City of Winnipeg is beginning a flexible work program that will see some employees work remotely on a permanent basis, and many downtown business owners are less than enthused.
“We’re not too happy about it,” said Seka Lussier, the operations manager of the King’s Head Pub.
“It’s incredibly detrimental to us and it completely disregards all local downtown businesses because we still have to pay the property taxes but now we have to meet this without the foot traffic.”
She says the foot traffic is something their business desperately needs, especially with the lunch and after-work crowds.
“It turns downtown from a local neighbourhood into a destination which people have to go out of their way to commute to,” she said.
“We need the foot traffic.”
Bagelsmith owner Phil Klein says it’s another item to add to a lengthy list of setbacks to his business, which opened during the pandemic.
“From our perspective, is it ideal? No. But we’ve been kind of given a pretty poor hand since we opened our doors,” Klein told Global News. “It’s been nothing but road blocks and obstacles, so (we’re) not unfamiliar with adversity.
“We’ll just keep rolling bagels and rolling with the punches and hopefully people will keep coming.”
Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Loren Remillard says while he recognizes the need to be flexible, he hopes the city will take a balanced approach.
“I understand as an employer, the city is no different than any other employer. (They’re) facing a fight for skilled individuals and there are options for individuals and one of the things people are looking for is that flexibility,” Remillard said.
“However, like every other employer, the city has a responsibility to the community at large, and right now we know our downtown needs more people coming back downtown. So I think what we’re looking for from the city is balance in how they’re going to approach that remote working.”
For Harrisons Coffee Co., business has stayed steady during the pandemic. Owner Al Dawson says they’re doing alright despite pandemic challenges, and will soon be opening a new location.
He says more foot traffic is always welcome, but he understands the city’s need to meet their employees expectations.
“I think that, like businesses, the city has to adapt to the expectations of the people,” Dawson said. “Although it might impact us in the short term I think it will allow for more businesses to enter the core and get more affordable space and maybe even space sharing.”
“Sure we need to see more people down here or else businesses like mine won’t survive,” he added. “But we do need to take care of our people and put our people first.”