Love Kingston Marketplace: do Kingston businesses love or hate it?

Love Kingston Marketplace’s 2021 initiative involved the expansion of patio places out into parking spots downtown. Photo via Love Kingston Marketplace.

After months of being cooped up during lockdown, Friday, June 11, 2021 couldn’t come any sooner for most Ontarians. It is the day we are able to have a small semblance of ‘normal life’—dining outdoors under patio umbrellas as well as doing some non-essential shopping.

Last year, the City of Kingston, together with Downtown Kingston BIA and Tourism Kingston, launched Love Kingston Marketplace (LKM) to help businesses cope with the pandemic.

“(The goal was to) allow for expansion of patio spaces and pedestrian access into downtown,” said Jan MacDonald, Senior Projects Manager of Marketing for Downtown Kingston BIA.

This means being able to expand patios out into “parking lay-bys”—the spots that are designated for parking but will become an extension of patios, explained MacDonald.

“We’re continuing for the second year because we’re not out of the pandemic yet,” she said.

Backlash against LKM initiative

Birds and Paws storefront in Kingston. Photo from Birds and Paws website.

Some businesses did not agree with the way the initiative was implemented last year.

In downtown Kingston, as people come out in droves to dine and shop, there remains one problem: parking. Even during pre-pandemic times, finding a spot to park was challenging, a point echoed by business owners and residents alike.

“It was disheartening to see how many parking spaces were allocated. Empty spaces were not used for patios,” said Birds and Paws owner Lana LeBlanc.

Calling some patio spaces “dilapidated,” LeBlanc further explained that it was “frustrating. No one’s listening… a few speak for the many.”

Classic Video storefront in Kingston.
Photo from Classic Video website.

Tom Ivison, owner of Classic Video for almost 34 years, echoed LeBlanc’s sentiment.

“Neither of the two years have we been approached in terms of removal of parking in front of the store. I would have appreciated (hearing) about their plans,” he said.

As a video store owner, Ivison said that he faces unique challenges as his clients need to come twice: first to pick up movie rentals, and second, to drop if off.

“There’s nowhere they can park close to the store. By the time (one of) my clients came back to the car, he got a ticket—all within 10 to 12 minutes,” Ivison said.

Some employees from other businesses also tend to park in free parking spots, he explained. Ivison wants everyone to succeed, and he’s happy that restaurant owners can be helped, but wants retail businesses to be remembered, as well.

“I’ve been closed, doing curb-side, had our own capacity reduced greatly in terms of providing service for our customers. Not that I need a patio for my business, but my business has been impacted as much as restaurants,” he said.

A ‘positive thing’ for restaurants

“I think it’s amazing—as a restauranteur going through this, the fact that the City is working to come up with ideas in helping us is fantastic,” said Dave McNamara, owner of Merchant Tap House and Union Restaurant.

With the initiative, Merchant was able to expand to 12 extra dining spaces, and 30 more for Union.

“Last year, they came quickly to our aid. They had a lot of critics get on them about how they did certain things and what they could have been done better,” McNamara said.

And McNamara isn’t alone expressing those sentiments.

The Merchant Tap House in Kingston. Photo from Merchant website

“In terms of our businesses, the patio expansions were a lifesaver, as they allowed us to bring back most of our staff. The extensions allowed our businesses to remain viable,” said Tim Pater, owner of various restaurants under Black Dog Hospitality.

Jess Huddle, owner of Northside Espresso and Kitchen, acknowledged that “the expanded patio areas provided through the LKM initiative have been critical in our ability to keep our restaurant open”.

“The expanded patio has given us hope, choice and something for us to hold onto. We are incredibly grateful for the opportunity and will continue to make the best out of all our options to keep our business running,” Huddle stated in LKM’s press release.

Changes this year

MacDonald acknowledged that lessons were learned and that there’s been a number of changes from the way the Marketplace was set up last year.

“Generally, businesses and restaurants are pleased that they were listened to and that there’s been some improvements made,” MacDonald said.

Pater, who has been vocal in supporting the initiative right from the start, said that “while there were some bumps in the road with LKM last year, the city and its partners reacted quickly to make changes, which resulted in a very successful initiative.”

After consultation with property and business owners, the number of patio spaces had been decreased to two thirds the amount from last year’s, creating a greater balance between patios and parking.

“There’s less parking spots that are impacted. It’s mostly restaurants… very few retail shops are taking advantage of extra space,” MacDonald said.

There’s going to be critics, of course… but as a restaurateur, I appreciate everything they’ve done,” Dave McNamara said.

One of the biggest improvements this year, according to LKM’s press release, is that the barriers used to create the spaces are now less imposing and more colourful with the addition of planters filled with flowers.

Asked whether this year’s implementation is any better, LeBlanc acknowledged that “they’ve done a great job. It’s a good initiative. It’s marginally improved”.

Leblanc suggests not to block off parking, and to be as “accessible to as many people as possible. Parking is always an issue downtown.”

Still, the BIA maintains that parking spaces are available for those driving into downtown Kingston to shop or dine.

Union Kitchen + Cocktails in Kingston. Photo via Instagram.

“There may be some spots now taken up by patios, but there are still lots of parking spots available downtown. It (just) might be a little farther,” MacDonald said.

McNamara said that this year’s changes have made things better. “They’re doing it right. There’s going to be critics, of course… but as a restaurateur, I appreciate everything they’ve done,” he said.

“I appreciate them correcting things this year,” McNamara continued, noting that he hopes there won’t be a need for an LKM initiative next year.

Future Plans

MacDonald promises that more plans for downtown Kingston will be underway once the restrictions are lifted.

Temporary closures of select streets, small musical performances, dining options in Springer Market Square, children’s programming, and public art are just a few of the many elements that will be part of LKM for 2021, the press release stated.

For more information from the City of Kingston on the Love Kingston Marketplace, click here.

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