This is the time of year that seems like winter will never end. Since the rush of the holiday shoppers ended in January, and with various types of winter weather being heaped on us over and over again, it’s difficult for most to be motivated to spend much of their time outside.
Many of the merchants in downtown Lindsay spend this quiet time gearing up for a busier spring and summer season. Every business has a different customer base, and some may argue that Lindsay doesn’t fit the definition of a ‘tourist town’ with their busiest season being July and August like a place like Bobcaygeon might. But only a select few experience their busy time in the first quarter of the year, and so they’re looking towards the better weather and a resurgence of traffic – especially pedestrian traffic – to our downtown.
2019 saw the first year of what’s being dubbed the downtown Lindsay reconstruction, with infrastructure improvements being made to Peel Street in the spring, and Russell Street for the rest of the season. The impact of these projects, especially when the Wellington Street bridge construction was thrown in for good measure, were felt more strongly than anyone expected. This understandably concerned some of these merchants for what was still to come. Three more years of construction, with the east end of Kent Street, and Lindsay Street in 2020; further west on Kent and Cambridge Street in 2021, and a fourth, unexpected year, to revitalize William and York Streets in 2022.
It’s no wonder that these merchants have concerns. The majority are ‘mom and pop’ shops, many of whom work their own businesses as much as possible in efforts to keep payroll costs down, and to ensure they’re providing the very best service to their customers, who they know by name. They love operating in the downtown, where there’s already a built-in supportive business community. They take pride in their place of business, whether it’s a relatively new passion project, or a family business that’s been handed down through the generations. However, they know that a low revenue month could make a big impact to their bottom line – and what if that month turns into years? Many are seriously worried that their business won’t be able to sustain that kind of hit, and they might not be here to enjoy all of the benefits that will come from a brand new downtown.
And this brand new downtown will be something to be proud of. The City of Kawartha Lakes started rolling out their plans for improvements back in 2017, and gave the community opportunity for input. They knew that the infrastructure was in dire need of replacement – some of the underground hasn’t been replaced since the 1930’s. With these required upgrades came the opportunity for the aesthetic improvements we were in need of. New sidewalks. New lampposts. Installation of beautiful landscaping and greenery. Improved pedestrian walkways and crossings. The community was just about unanimous in it’s desire to keep our unusually wide street, wide sidewalks and angle parking, and all of those will remain, but the overall effect of the finished product will be so much more visually appealing, and may just put Lindsay on the map of those places that people love to visit across Ontario.
But the fabric of a downtown is so much more than the aesthetic. What is referred to as the ‘business mix’ is what sustains traffic to the downtown. You have retailers who attract loyal regulars. The ones who attract out-of-town visitors. The destination retailers who are specialized and unique. The mix of food services, providing upscale specialty dining, casual eateries and quick grab-and-go options. And the services, often the unsung heroes of the downtown, who ensure that people needing regular access to financial, medical, legal, travel, and beauty and fitness services are making sometimes daily and weekly trips into the downtown. Many of the businesses downtown have adopted a motto of ‘what’s good for one is good for all’ and recognize that instead of competing with one another, that everyone is stronger when they work together and encourage their patrons to also patronize the other businesses to make for a well rounded and valuable experience every time they’re here.
So what can be done? The Lindsay Downtown BIA is in the process of answering that question. The merchants have indicated that it’s imperative that the lines of communications stay open. The downtown BIA works closely with the City of Kawartha Lakes, which has more than recognized that the businesses will feel the pressure of these projects are taking whatever steps possible to try and minimize the impact. A ‘reconstruction committee’ is being formed, made up of several enterprising, creative and passionate downtown merchants to focus on communication, marketing and advocacy issues throughout this challenging time.
Easily the most significant challenge will be to overcome the public perception that the downtown is ‘closed for business.’ The fear is that is that because the downtown may seem inconvenient to access, that it may be difficult to park, that it’s simply easier to go elsewhere – that people will indeed go elsewhere.
You may think that you can go elsewhere this time, or the next and it won’t matter, because your favourite businesses will still be there later. But there is a very real possibility that they may not be without community support. The vast majority are not faceless corporations. They are your friends and neighbours. Their kids go to school with your kids. Some are trying to keep a business successful that your parents and grandparents also frequented years ago. They donate to local charities, sponsor local events and teams, and for the most part are just trying to support a family, just as you are.
The best thing you can do is move past the idea that it seems inconvenient to frequent downtown – and do it anyway. We’ll be doing our part to make things as customer friendly as we can – and ask that you take a few extra minutes out of your day to continue being the loyal customer that your favourite merchants so appreciate.