Well, my cards are on the table….I agree with this open letter sent from these downtown businesses. It should stay open longer.
Check it out:
Downtown Guelph’s Dining District Pilot Program: A Hopeful Success
Date: September 3, 2020
Dear Community Members,
There is no question that Guelph’s Downtown Dining District pilot program was and continues to be a success. Among our collective group of Business’, we have had overwhelming positive feedback from the community. For example,
“This is Exactly what downtown needed, not just for economic recovery from COVID-19, but to help downtown Guelph realize and seize its potential.”Customer
“I haven’t been downtown in years!”, “This reminds me of Europe! “, “I hope this happens next year!”Customer
These types of sentiments echoed throughout downtown during the summer’s pilot dining district program; which saw the main downtown intersection of Wyndham and Macdonell Street closed to vehicular traffic to allow for expanded street patios, curbside retail, and a spacious walking zone for pedestrians.
Leveraging the unique aesthetic of downtown’s architecture and gardens, business owners invested in furniture, umbrellas, tents, fences, patio heaters, and lighting to transform the downtown intersection into a pedestrian-friendly spectacle.
“The response was incredible. As someone who has run a restaurant downtown for over 10 years, I am used to seeing the same faces. I can tell you firsthand that the number of Guelphites we saw repeatedly throughout the summer who had previously avoided downtown was huge. The exposure this has given to every downtown business, restaurant or not, is tremendous,” Said Richard Overland, Owner/Operator of NV Kitchen and Bar.
Not only did this program help downtown businesses operate safely while adjusting to the changing regulations of the province’s staged COVID recovery plan, but it also fostered support to help them flourish in a season where downtown Guelph is usually slowest. A survey of eight of the restaurants included within the dining district revealed that the program created in excess of 300 new jobs since April 2020. Many businesses were also able to extend their hours, opening earlier to cater to customers who were previously not drawn to downtown early in the day.
“We are very thankful to the City of Guelph for all of the hard work put in by City staff to make this pedestrian zone happen and happen so quickly. With the uncertainty of what will happen in fall and winter, we are incredibly pleased to hear that the City has extended the program from September 7th to September 22nd. Many of the restaurants downtown, ours included, feel that the extension should extend beyond September 22nd to Thanksgiving or Halloween. The longer we keep customers outside, spaced and seated in public, the better. We are all headed into a lot of uncertainty in the coming year and should be taking full advantage of tolerable weather while we can. I think we would find that customers are not only willing to remain outside but would be appreciative of the option to do so.” SaidChuck Nash, Owner/Operator of Frank and Steins.
“As a downtown business who had not had a patio prior to the dining district, we cannot thank the City enough for allowing this to happen. Summer is usually a slow time downtown; students move home, residents go to their cottages, and the remainder make frequent trips to neighboring cities for other events and activities. Something that keeps people in town, attracts day-trippers to Guelph, and pulls people downtown in the summer is long overdue. Extending that program another two weeks is great, and we are extremely grateful for it, but think that it might be cutting the opportunities short unnecessarily. Given the popularity and appeal of the current layout, there is great opportunity for some responsible fall programing. Nothing too crazy, this year at least, just a few fall festival or Oktoberfest themes that businesses can use to give those Guelphites who have been supporting the downtown district throughout the summer a reason to come down a little bit longer. Yes, it’s getting colder, but serious snow is likely a ways off, and we are Canadians after all.” Colton Proveau, Owner/Operator, Brothers Brewing Company.
The consensus of the businesses involved is one of hope for a further fall extension and timely decision for future years. There is a large opportunity for coordination among the City, DGBA, and downtown businesses to organize attractive programing for future years and ensure that 2021 sees a pedestrian zone built up from 2020, rather than scaled back. Rumours of alterations to the current design, limiting business to the sidewalk space and parking spaces are already concerning participants.
“There just isn’t enough room on the sidewalk and parking spaces to create the atmosphere we achieved this year. I think all participants, customers included, would agree that having cars racing by you while you dine or shop in the parking stalls would make your experience tremendously less enjoyable. I hope the City chooses to keep things largely as they are and not risk ruining a good thing,” Bryan Steele, Owner/Operator, La Reina Restaurant.
The boost in foot traffic generated by the closure has many businesses supporting the idea of having the intersection closed permanently.
“People weren’t coming downtown, not like I expected. I often think about moving my business to the south end once my lease is up. The momentum I see built by the street closure has changed things. If this were permanent, you would see all these downtown vacancies disappear as other businesses seek to take advantage of all these people. More businesses downtown means a bigger draw for even more people, and things can only go up from there. I would like to see the roads permanently closed.” Anurag Sood, Founder/Owner, Crazy Carrot Restaurant.
Its clear that the success of the Dining District Pilot Program has people excited for new opportunities and the prospects of an exciting future for downtown. The condensed layout, historic architecture, sidewalk gardens, and number of unique small businesses give Guelph the opportunity to create something with their downtown that other cities cannot. Will this initiative become a piece of Guelph’s identity as an annual or constant occurrence or simply be a fond memory of a brief silver lining and glimmer of hope given to small businesses during a difficult time?
What other businesses have to say:
“We get crowds just before lunch and just before dinner. People are just excited to be out shopping.” Erica Palmer, Manager, Harmony By Earthwinds
“Not only has every weekday been busy, the moment we open our doors in the morning, but we’ve been able to extend our hours and continue selling into the night. Its been incredible.” Jay Macfarlane, Owner/Operator, Wimpy’s Diner Guelph
“This is amazing. I’ve worked downtown for 14 years and this is the most inviting it’s ever been. This needs to happen every year! Let expand! Let’s include farmers market vendors and more!” Teija Tucker, Stylist, Acqua Salon
We would like to request the ability to continue the Dining District past the new deadline of September 21, 2020 until the weather makes it unreasonable to do so.
- The Dining district saved many of our business from bankruptcy as the vast majority of people still don’t want to dine in even though that is a current option
- After being closed for almost 4 months we are now just getting caught up with bills at home and at our businesses.
- Our businesses will immediately turn to the red when the Dining District is closed. Most of us do not have the sidewalk space or parking stalls to remain profitable
- It will allow us to continue to employ hundreds without layoffs
- It is safer for the community to dine outside than inside
- Line painting can wait and is not a priority in comparison to pandemic needs and Catch basins can be checked with everything as it is.
- There will be more students coming back than planned (estimated 10K – 15K students returning for 2nd, 3rd, 4th year despite the fact that they will be taking their classes online) By not providing a safe controlled space for these students to socialize, the City of Guelph is not helping to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Students and student groups will resort to unprecedented house parties that will negatively impact our city, police force, and public image.
- Outdoor dining is the most effective way to deal with the spread of COVID-19. By removing the Dining District many establishments will move operations inside at a much quicker pace. It has been proven that mask-wearing, hand sanitizing, and proper ventilation are the most effective tools in the fight against COVID-19. The responsible solution is to continue to provide safe outdoor spaces for people to socialize while weather permits and education on COVID-19 continues.
- The City of Guelph for the last 4 years has implemented Safe September. This Program included the mandated closure of the intersection of Wyndham and MacDonnell streets throughout the month of September. Keeping the Dining District in place for the month of September would not negatively impact the core, it would be consistent with previous years and would support a safe approach to both the return of the student populace, risk factors associated with COVID-19, improved community moral and security issues.
- Businesses in the downtown core have been on the front lines of COVID-19 since the beginning of Phase 2. This is Guelph’s greatest front-line defense in mitigating the spread of this virus as cooler temperatures set in, students from out of city return, and many office workers return to their workplaces. Taking this stance would show leadership and visionary thinking on behalf of The City of Guelph.
- Economic recovery for the downtown core. If the second wave of COVID-19 hits and we have to close our businesses again the economic impact will be devastating as the shutdown will be longer. Many businesses in both the hospitality, retail may not survive and protracted closure or slowdown which could lead to a sharp increase in vacancies downtown which in turn could lead to more vacancies.
“We would likely not have survived without the creation of Downtown Dining District this summer. It has enabled us to catch up on bills for our businesses and just like many other Canadians at home as well. It has also helped us employ hundreds during these difficult times and we would like to continue to do so. We are thankful that the City of Guelph along with the Downtown Guelph Business Association for giving us this opportunity. Our collective view, is that by extending the GDDD, it would give our business’ a fighting chance to make what it surely to be the toughest winter on record for us.” Derek Boudreau-Owner/Operator Royal Electric/Jimmy Jazz
Thank you for your immediate attention.
Derek Boudreau, Justin Corstorphine, Conrad Aikens– Royal Electric Bar & Public Eatery/Jimmy Jazz
Bryan Steele, Derek Boudreau, Justin Corstorphine, Conrad Aikens – La Reina
Bob Dehu – McCabes Irish Pub and Grill
Richard Overland – NV Kitchen and Bar
Colton Proveau, Asa Proveau – Brothers Brewing Company
Chuck Nash, Dario Di Renzo – Frank and Steins
Katrina and Taj Marshall – Rise & Shine Brunch Family Restaurant
Jay Macfarlane– Wimpy’s Diner
Anurag Sood – Crazy Carrot