Downtown core becoming social square

Brett Poirier
Published on July 11, 2014

Big Mug owner Mario Sham stands behind the bar counter at Summerside’s newest club in the downtown core. The Big Mug is being affected by the street closure starting July 19.

Brett Poirier photo

SUMMERSIDE - In about a week, traffic on Water Street through downtown Summerside won’t be running quite the same.

But unlike most cases, construction isn’t the cause. From July 19 to Sept. 1, over 100 meters, between Spring Street and Summer Street, will be operating as a downtown square for foot traffic only.

“I like the idea,” said Big Mug owner Mario Sham. “It’s always good for a small city to try new things.”

Often found in larger cities, a downtown square is a way to bring people out of their vehicles to explore the shops and restaurants. Summerside’s project is officially being called the “Downtown Keel Row.”

Sham was happy to see people in the city were eager to make a change to the downtown core.

“I’ve been here for three months and things have gone well so far. But if there’s a chance this could work, I’m willing to try.”

Downtown Summerside Inc. executive director, Pam Schurman-Montgomery brought the idea forward several months ago.

“We have a lot to offer,” said Schurman-Montgomery. "There was a need for this. We don’t have a place where people can come and relax downtown.”

Local businesses were informed of the decision to close down the street.

“The downtown stores liked the idea and were willing to try something different,” said Brent Gallant, president of the board at Downtown Summerside Inc. “We see this idea as an opportunity to grow.”

Gallant referred to this model working in other metropolitan areas, including New York City.

“Times Square is focused on pedestrian traffic and it became one of the biggest tourist attractions in the world,” said Gallant. “I’m not comparing Summerside to New York by any means but the way they did it worked.”

In order for the trial to be successful, everyone will have to be onboard, said Gallant.

“Hopefully people will give this a chance. There will be bumps along the way but we’ll adapt when we need to.”

Starting on July 21 there will be entertainment and art demonstrations in the square.

A group from Art in Motion at Culture Summerside will perform each day from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on the sidewalks. Having entertainment is important to draw new people, said Schurman-Montgomery.

“We will be looking at ways to grow throughout the summer. We haven’t closed any doors in terms of what we might do.”

For the Downtown Summerside Inc. board, experimenting was a priority.

“No one can continue with the same efforts and look for different results,” said Gallant. “If this works, we’ll celebrate, then look at ways to bring it back again.”

Breaking old habits can be hard. Residents who normally drive to the front entrance of their favourite restaurant or get dropped off at the bank’s door will soon have to walk a block now.

Sham said they’d live.

“This is a good thing for Summerside. If people aren’t willing to try then we’ll never change.”