A plan to once again close a block of Vernon’s main street this summer has been met with mixed feelings among businesses in the area.
The city shut down the 2900 block of 30th Avenue to vehicles last summer to create a pedestrian plaza. Touted as a way to help out businesses after a year and a half of COVID-19, the closure allowed businesses to move extra seating outdoors, with events designed to draw people to the area by foot.
Plans are in the works to repeat the closure this summer from July 1 to Sept. 5. Council will vote on whether to approve the idea in principle at its next meeting Monday, April 25.
But first, council will hear from John Harker — manager of the Raven Traders pawn shop in the 2900 block — about his concerns.
“When there’s a major shutdown for a couple of months, it becomes a financial burden,” Harker said. He added the closure cost the business about $1,000 per month.
Asked why he thinks the closure led to financial losses, Harker pointed to the disruption of traffic flow and the temporary loss of roughly 20 prime parking spaces.
He said the city has agreed to leave parking open in the alleyway beside his business.
“But even with (the alleyway parking), you take away 21 prime parking spots, that’s going to affect everybody downtown,” he said. “And when you take away that traffic it kills business.”
The city has said it found “general support” for a closure this year in a survey of 30th Avenue businesses conducted by the Downtown Vernon Association, but Harker takes issue with the survey, claiming there were businesses he spoke to that hadn’t even heard about it after the fact.
The Morning Star spoke to 10 street-level businesses on the main street block, as well as the block immediately to the west. Six of them were in favour of the closure, three were against, and one was split down the middle with one co-owner in favour and the other against. In general, restaurants and cafés were more strongly in favour of the closure than businesses outside of the food industry.
Representing team pedestrian plaza was Tanneke Oordt, owner of Thirty One & Main boutique, who pointed out that heat waves and nearby forest fires that rained ash on the city likely hindered the plaza’s popularity last summer.
Beyond supporting the closure, Oordt would like to see it expanded an extra block or two.
“I would really like this block included,” she said. “I would love to see even a Saturday morning Farmer’s Market here. I think it would be a hit.”
Oordt says parking isn’t an issue in her mind; there’s enough parking elsewhere in the downtown, and part of the beauty of the idea is getting people out for a stroll.
“I’m very in favour, and I think it would be lovely if we made it a bit more European.”