Business owners on Princess St. and Brock St. are speaking out against the City’s pedestrianization initiative in downtown Kingston.
“The lane closures on Princess and Brock created, almost instantly, more negativity regarding Downtown Kingston from customers than I have ever experienced as a Kingston resident and business owner,” said Susan Cooke, owner of Cooke’s Fine Foods at 61 Brock St. Cooke’s has been operating downtown for 155 years.
The Love Kingston Marketplace, a joint venture between the City of Kingston, the Downtown Business Owners Association and Tourism Kingston opened last week. Fences and cinder block barriers were installed on Wednesday, June 24, with the goal to increase pedestrian space and allow for better social distancing. The new layout has rendered hundreds of downtown parking spaces inaccessible, closed roads and reduced others to a single lane.
Joanne Angelis, Cooke’s neighbouring business owner at House of Angelis, said the loss of downtown parking will devastate businesses.
“When you take away parking downtown for any reason, whether it’s construction or an event, it deters people from coming downtown,” she said. “We’ve been here for 17 years, we know that it’s a deterrent.” She said representatives from the City seem uninterested in feedback from business owners.
“We have voiced these concerns, they just don’t care,” she said. “They’re so focused on forcing this through against so many people’s wishes.”
She is also concerned about the limited delivery space on the street.
“That’s going to be a mess,” she said. “They keep telling us that this one spot that they’ve designated at the end of Brock street, that’s going to be for all deliveries and curbside pickups. I don’t see how that’s going to function.”
“On any given day when you look outside,” she said, “there are trucks on the street making deliveries. … Lana [LeBlanc] from Birds N’ Paws, they get three big deliveries a week on large skids. So does Susan [Cooke],” she said.
Cooke agreed. “The difficulties for deliveries are astronomical to say the least,” she said. “We’ve seen transport trucks double-parking, and blocking cars at the ten-minute pick-up delivery zones. It’s just not a good situation at all.”
Rob McMahon, who owns McMahon’s House of Flowers on Princess St., said he has had no choice but to allow transport trucks to obstruct traffic when his plant deliveries arrive.
“I had an 18-wheeler come in on Friday with plants. The trucks can’t turn the corners the way they’re set up. They can’t fit into any of these designated parking areas to unload.” When the driver asked McMahon what to do, McMahon told him to park the truck and the two men, plus one employee from the store, began frantically unloading the truck.
“There was one car behind him when he opened up the back of his truck,” McMahon said. In the five minutes they spent unloading, traffic backed up to Division street. “The only reason it didn’t go further is because people saw the line and started turning.”
McMahon agrees with Angelis and Cooke that consultation with business owners has not been sufficient. “The City basically, from my point of view, didn’t give us any options,” he said.
Director of the Downtown BIA, Tim Pater, called on business owners to get behind the project at its unveiling on Wednesday, June 24.
“I don’t see why we have to get behind anything we know is going to be a detriment to our business,” Angelis said.
Lana LeBlanc, the owner of Bird N’ Paws at 79 Brock St., calls the initiative “a trainwreck.”
“This is beyond frustrating and angering,” LebBlanc said. “We moved here to Kingston and purchased Birds N’ Paws 19 years ago. [Kingstonians] are well aware of the constant battle we’ve had with parking….We’ve had to deal with the ‘Big Dig’, construction of the Market Square, construction of Jack Astors, the building beside us specifically was turned into an apartment building. We’ve never said anything because it’s for the greater good of the downtown, and we want to be part of that.”
LeBlanc noted that downtown retailers also deal with annual street closures for the annual Princess Street Promenade and the Buskers Festival without issue. “If it benefits our business neighbours, let’s have at it. Let’s keep our business neighbours strong. But this was completely out of the blue,” she said.
LeBlanc suggested the City to let business owners vote on the redesign. “If my business neighbours said ‘yes’, we would have accepted that. But every business I’ve spoken to is just as disheartened as we are.”
Cooke said she has had direct consultation with the City, because she and her husband live above their store. They would have lost access to their driveway under original plans to fully close Brock St, she said. “Of course they had no idea, which gave me the impression they didn’t really do the research of what they were trying to accomplish,” she added. Cooke said the plan was revised after their meeting, and one lane of Brock St. was kept open, but she is still disappointed with the initiative overall.
Amanda Stewart at Amanda’s House of Elegance at 70 Princess St., and Cheryl Walker of Cloth at 131 Princess St, have also stated they are against the project. “We might as well shut our door,” Walker said. “This will cost me over $100,000. People have no idea. If they want all these businesses to go under, keep it up and we’ll be gone.”
Other business owners have come forward on social media, sharing their frustration with the project. Ron Shore, the owner of Stone City Ales, has posted that he will not be using the small patio space the City has allotted to him, as he feels it cannot be done safely. Instead, Stone City Ales will operate a bottle shop and offer free contact-less delivery, he said.
When asked what they would prefer, most business owners said they would like to return to the model of curb-side pick-up with ample downtown parking. Angelis, Walker, and Cooke all noted that they were just starting to see some promising sales figures in early May, as restrictions on retail were lifted, when the Love Kingston Marketplace initiative was rolled out .
“The one thing that was helping downtown Kingston businesses the most was the free parking on the streets and in the City-owned lots,” Cooke said. “Please bring the free parking back and we’ll see everyone thrive – including the restaurant patios. Let the public be responsible for their own social distancing while outside. The merchants have taken care of it inside their establishments.”