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Monday, December 12, 2016

What happened to Christmas downtown? What happened to downtown in general?

Going downtown during Christmas was one of the highlights of my childhood. My Mother and I would go to Woolworths for lunch then poke around The Arcade, go to the Mount Cashel Raffle and buy a ticket hoping to win a turkey. Then we would go window to window looking at the decorations and displays.
You can’t do that with your kids anymore because none of it exists!

Granted Mount Cashel is a bad memory, The Arcade and Woolworths are long gone, and downtown is fading from our vibrant history.

It has turned into boutique stores, pricy restaurants and tourist traps. Businesses are closing down and a reasonably priced fish and chips is as hard to find as a parking spot.

There was a time when the downtown businesses only had to compete with the Avalon and Village Malls. Now it’s Stavanger Drive and Kelsey Drive with their big free parking lots where you don’t have to worry about getting a ticket. Then there’s internet shopping!

People need a reason to go back downtown.

The marketing strategy is just not there but it is not that hard to create. Simple adjustments can change our downtown section into the bustling business district it once was. All you have to do is get creative and deal with some issues:

Parking and parking tickets. If you’re lucky enough to find a parking spot you have to keep an eye on the meter so you don’t get a ticket. Simple solution, make Duckworth Street and Water Street one way to ease the traffic congestion.  Keep the traffic on Harbour Dive both ways. Then put parking on Duckworth and Water Streets on an angle to double the capacity. Allow more free parking days or just free parking in general.

Close Water Street to host festivals. When George Street has its music festival the street is closed down to accommodate people traffic which is a great idea! When Water Street has the Busker’s Festival the street stays open to traffic! If Water Street was closed down the City would have more room for Buskers, and families would feel safer if they didn’t have to dodge traffic to see the acts performing. Make this festival an event; organize a parade around it, encourage businesses to set up sidewalk sales, let people have ticket booths and food stands like a “Water Street Regatta.

Host more festivals!!! Surely we can come up with more than the George Street Festival and the Busker’s Festival to showcase downtown. Here’s an idea… New Year’s Eve in June! Bring the fireworks back to the St. John’s Harbour but set them off in June! Put a stage on the Waterfront for musical acts and create a party. It would boost business for restaurants and nightclubs and bring families back to downtown. Wouldn’t you like to see the New Year’s fireworks while wearing your shorts?

Own Christmas! The one thing downtown has over other shopping areas is the history. Here’s how you do it:

1.       Encourage businesses to create a one-of-a-kind window display. Give awards for the best window. Make a big deal over it and advertise it to the public as the one thing they don’t want to miss during Christmas. Downtown traffic equals downtown shopping and eating.

2.       Invest in some new city decorations and lights. You should see downtown from Mount Pearl! Light it up! Make it magical!

3.       Bring back the raffle. Ask a charity to take it over. I am sure the Rotary or Kinsman would love to take it on during December. Ask for proposals and whoever comes up with the best long-term business plan wins the contract for 3-5 years. If they get lazy or do not do a good job they lose it to someone else.

Entice other restaurants to move downtown. I love our local cuisine but sometimes I don’t want to make reservations I just want a Big Mac. Not everyone can afford a $100 lunch. Why isn’t there a McDonalds, Burger King or even a Ches’s downtown? There are lots of pricy places but not a lot of moderate to low cost places to eat.

Enough with the boutiques! I am the queen of shopping but I am also the queen of good deals. Every time I shop downtown I am appalled by the tourist gouging that goes on. The write up on some goods is crazy. I also don’t want to buy socks with “What are ya at?” on them or T-shirts with “Ow she gettin’ on by?” I refuse to shop in stores that don’t take returns. I was burnt by a store downtown last summer when I bought an expensive pair of sneakers as a gift for my daughter on her birthday. They didn’t fit and I brought them back. They didn’t have her size and they would only give me a store credit. They didn’t have another pair that she liked so we ended up wasting the credit on things she didn’t really want. Learned a lesson there!

Entice other clothing stores to move downtown. Why don’t we have a Suzy Shier or La Chateau downtown? Not everybody can spend $3000 on a fur coat. Some people just want to buy a reasonably priced winter coat. Bring in some normal stores. These stores employ local people too and drive the economy.

Not everyone likes George Street. I am a 53 year old Mother. I have no interest in George Street and it seems the City only promotes what is happening there. I never hear them promote what is happening on Duckworth Street or Water Street. If it wasn’t for friends on Facebook promoting restaurants I would not know downtown existed outside of George Street.

Now downtown business owners don’t get upset with me. I know not all downtown businesses target the rich who want lobster for lunch, expensive clothes and tourist items. Unfortunately those businesses get lost in between which is why they are closing down.  We don’t know they exist!

Someone has dropped the ball here.  Downtown needs a marketing strategy that is not so focussed on the brief tourist season, high-end shoppers or party goers on George Street.  You have basically cut out the middle to low income earners. 

That’s too bad because there are more people living in moderately priced homes in St. John’s than there are in King William Estate mansions.  

Go to the Avalon Mall on any given day. The food court is full, parking is free, the stores are busy and the money is flowing.  People are willing to spend money they just need a good reason to spend it downtown.