Visitors mingle with artists during a recent event in the Downtown Keel Row temporary pedestrian space on Summerside’s Water Street. Colin MacLean/Journal Pioneer
SUMMERSIDE – Tim MacKay estimates he’s lost at least $200 a day in revenue this summer.
McKay, owner of Downtown Convenience on Summerside’s Water Street, is one of several business owners in the downtown core who are raising alarm bells over the effect the Downtown Keel Row has had on their business.
“I’ve never heard so many complaints (from customers),” said McKay.
Water Street between Summer and Spring streets has been closed to traffic since July 14 for various festivals and events.
The Summerside Lobster Festival and Wyatt Heritage Properties Inc. were the primary providers of entertainment for the space from July 14 to 19, then Downtown Summerside Inc. took over. It called the space Downtown Keel Row and billed it as a pedestrian area, filling it with picnic tables and scheduling almost daily entertainment.
Keel Row was supposed to attract people and business to the downtown core, but some, like McKay, say its done the opposite for them.
MacKay said the first couple of weeks the street was closed there was a lot going on, and plenty of people around so businesses was OK. But as the entertainment and attractions tapered off, so did interest in the area.
Arts in Motion, a yearly event for the downtown, has continued to attracts people, but it’s only for a couple of hours every day, said McKay, so when it leaves the street empties.
Beamer Sadiku, of Beamer’s A1 Pizza, isn’t located directly on the closed section of the street, but he’s close enough that he’s noticed people complaining about the reduction in parking.
The closed section normally has about 10 spaces.
Sadiku said he has seen more tourists around the shop, but far fewer of his local regulars have been buying pizza.
People don’t want to walk any farther than they have to, he said, so even if there’s parking just around the corner or on the other side of the building, they’ll go somewhere else rather than walk.
He’s also had problems with people attending the street events ducking into his shop to use the washroom without buying anything, costing him supplies.
Carol Peters, owner of Sheen’s for Shoes, is on the closed section of street and has witnessed a similar downturn in her normally brisk summer season.
Peters said she had high hopes for the event and was originally excited that someone, anyone, was trying something new and exciting in the downtown.
But as her revenues have continued to decline, she’s grown more worried about her prospects for this year.
She, like other business owners in the downtown, signed up for idea willingly and provided Downtown Summerside Inc. with verification of this in writing.
It was a good idea, said Peters, and maybe with a few more anchor stores or big events it could have worked.
But it just did not work in its current form, she said.
The situation deteriorated to the point where, in late July, MacKay and several other downtown business owners asked for the street to immediately be reopened to traffic.
“We said, we understand what they’re trying to do, we know they’re trying to help us, we’re not against them in any way, shape or form. But the fact is, we’re losing business and this didn’t work. So cut your losses and open the street,” said McKay.
Their request to reopen it outright was denied, however, Downtown Summerside has since agreed to open the street earlier than the scheduled end date of Sept. 1. The last day of entertainment on Downtown Keel Row will now be Aug. 16.
Brent Gallant, president of Downtown Summerside Inc., said Friday that he was aware of the concerns brought forward by this group of business people but reiterated that something new had to be tried for the downtown.
“It’s a difficult thing. You know, you try to move forward and I guess some people found that it adversely affected them – that’s not something we want to see happen,” he said, adding this feedback is why they are cutting the closure short.
He added that they did get some good feedback as well, so they’ll take all that back to the drawing board for next year.
“We’re certainly there to try and enhance the opportunity for the downtown to revitalize itself and to do that you have to go out and try some different things. Now everything you try is not going to work perfectly, so sometimes you have to go back and revise,” he said.
As for McKay, he’s looking at another week of lost revenues until the street is reopened.
But it could be worse, he said, he could have to wait until Sept. 1.
Remaining entertainment at Downtown Keel Row
*Aug. 12, Morgan Hill performing – 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 3 to 6 p.m.
*Aug. 13, David Woodside performing 11:30 to 1:30 p.m., Summerside Rotary Library reading program at 2 p.m. and Spencer Phillips from 4 to 7 p.m.
*Aug. 14, I Work Downtown Breakfast from 7 to 10 a.m., Spencer Soloduka performing from 11:30 to 1:30 p.m. and 3 to 6 p.m.
*Aug. 16, David Woodside performing from 11:30 to 1:30 p.m., Julia Bentley performing from 3 to 5 p.m. and Spotlight Theatre open mic from 5 to 7 p.m.