Downtown merchants coping with revitalization

John Roukema prepares to do some cuttng while Bill Miller connects some lines in the pit on a section of Westminster Avenue closed to vehicle traffic.  - Mark Brett/Western News
John Roukema prepares to do some cuttng while Bill Miller connects some lines in the pit on a section of Westminster Avenue closed to vehicle traffic.
— image credit: Mark Brett/Western News

Businesses along Westminster Avenue are still facing a lot of construction work before their street is restored to normal.

“We should be somewhere around two to three weeks before we are complete on Westminster Avenue and then we will move on to Martin Street. We won’t start the other project until we are done this one,” said Barb Haynes, chair of the Downtown Revitalization Committee.

“It’s exciting. This has been coming for a lot of years. There have been a few times the community has tried to move this forward.”

But in the meantime, the shops and restaurants are still open and doing their best to conduct business as normal.

For Angela Eun, the new owner of Lee’s Overseas Delights, this is her first March. While she doesn’t have anything to compare the current traffic to, she said it seems slow. The first Monday was so slow, she decided to close the next two Mondays.

“If it is still not really busy, then I might decide to close another Monday until the construction is done,” said Eun, who is hoping the improved streetscape will help draw business.

“It might be prettier than before, that is what we are waiting for,” said Eun. “Hopefully the sidewalk will be better than before so more people walk on the streets and come in my restaurant, so that is what I am looking for.”

Maureen Mayes, owner of Beadz, said her customers seem to be still finding their way into the store.

“I’ve been very blessed, my customers have managed to find their way in, albeit with a little frustration. But they are making an effort,” said Mayes.

Frustrated includes one customer who parked on the other side of the street, only to find the construction fence didn’t have any openings in it and she had to walk to one end of the block to get around the fence.

“I know they are doing the best they can for what it is they have to do and I am just really  appreciative that it is being done now and not in another month or so,” said Mayes, who stayed with her winter schedule of closing three days a week a little longer this year.

“I did stay closed those first two tuesdays, simply because it was fairly mayhem down here and I thought there was no sense worrying about it,” said Mayes.

One unfortunate side effect was her beads jumping off shelves when workers were flattening ground for the paving stones.

“It was pretty entertaining one day when they were out there with a thumper thing. That was a little frustrating, but in the overall sense, I will be happy when it is done,” said Mayes, who is hoping the new streetscape will be a little prettier and more inviting.

“I want to think that it is just another way that we can try and encourage tourism,” she said.

One person that is very happy with the work down so far is accessibility advocate Doug Pichette, who has already taken his scooter through the newly finished sidewalk.

Use of square paving stones make for a smooth ride he said, and the curb letdowns are also smooth, unlike the several bumpy ones he demonstrated to Mayor Garry Litke last fall.

“They have it nicely ramped down, nice and level (to the crosswalk),” said Pichette. “It’s the way they should have been in the first place.”

Mayes doesn’t have any advice to offer Martin Street merchants for when the revitalization project moves to their street, but did say she would have preferred to have been better informed about the project and the ongoing work schedule.

“I feel a little in the dark as to what the whole thing is. I thought that we were supposed to be getting some sort of a scheduling idea what exactly was happening,” she said.

Haynes said she has been receiving good feedback from the merchants on the project and thinks there is good communication between the contractor, the city, businesses and the community as a whole.

“We try to make sure we’re on top of it as much as possible and that we check with the businesses as regularly as possible,” said Haynes, adding that the schedules sometimes change when work crews encounter unexpected problems.



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