TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN
City of Brandon workers install potted plants and flower baskets on Rosser Avenue between Ninth and 10th streets on Wednesday morning as the downtown pedestrian mall is prepared to be opened to the public.
Visions of buskers, street festivals and bustling patios had downtown business owners, visitors and area regulars abuzz with possibilities for the freshly hatched pedestrian mall.
A pedestrian walks past a vehicle parked in the new angle parking on Ninth Street on Wednesday. (TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN)
Nathan Crook, Justin Alcock and Dave Thiel busk along Rosser Avenue near 10th Street on the first day of the block being turned into a pedestrian corridor on Wednesday. (COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)
In an attempt to revitalize "the Downtown Hub," the block between Ninth and 10th streets on Rosser Avenue has been temporarily converted into a pedestrian-friendly zone.
The ultimate hope is for the block to be cordoned off seasonally -- May through September -- to take advantage of summer weather and activities.
Chris Saunders and Denise Andries say they were happy to see more activity around them as they ate lunch outside the Grand Central Sandwich Deli.
"Anything to bring more life downtown is definitely the way to go. We have these beautiful streets that no one ever frequents so great to see something done," Andries told the Sun. "People don't know what's down here unless they're driving past ... I try to make an effort to come downtown but honestly, when I come to the bank, that's when I see what's actually down here."
Andries has travelled extensively and says some of the most memorable cities are those that boast a vibrant downtown.
Saunders, a lifelong Brandon resident, added that he hopes the pedestrian mall concept will be buoyed by events and community attractions like Cruisin' the Dub.
Naomi Hamm was downtown for lunch Wednesday afternoon but admits she rarely makes the effort.
She recently started working at a bank on Rosser Avenue, however, and says she's encouraged to see any activity in the area.
"There's just not much down here," Hamm told the Sun. "More retail would help, but I don't know the solution."
For business owner Gwen Bromley, showing people what the area has to offer is key.
Bromley's clothing and gift store, The Cinnamon Tree, has operated out of its current location on the 900-block of Rosser Avenue for 15 years and attracting new customers has been an uphill battle the entire time, she says.
No matter what comes of the pedestrian mall, she says it's good to try something new.
"I think it has huge potential and we could do a lot of different things. We're talking about food festivals and if we could just get events going on down here, I think a lot of people would realize there's a lot to offer down here," Bromley said.
"I think you're going to start to see the storefronts fill up as long as we can make this a positive."
Rhonda Tomlinson of Virden is in town all week while her daughter attends musical theatre classes. After two days of wandering the city, Tomlinson was happy to saddle up to one of the four picnic tables added to the block to eat her lunch.
"I think it's a great move ... for me, it is a better choice because it means I'm not out wandering around and spending money," she said. "I'm down here and enjoying downtown instead."
Blocking off Rosser Avenue between Ninth and 10th streets has, on a trial basis, changed downtown traffic flow as well.
As of Wednesday morning, Ninth Street and 10th Street from Princess Avenue to Pacific Avenue are one-way streets, complete with free angle parking on one side of the street.
Although it confused a few drivers, Brandon Police Services bylaw officers on the street said drivers and pedestrians alike navigated the new format well.
Bylaw officers were out, as usual, wandering the streets looking for vehicles parked illegally. The hope is that downtown shoppers use the free parking and that area employees don't abuse the offering.
With commuters now travelling north on 10th Street to Pacific Avenue and south on Ninth Street to Princess Avenue, The Chilli Chutney owner Laxman Negi worries his business won't be as visible.
"For our regular customers, I'm not worried, this is a good thing for downtown," Negi said from his restaurant on the 900-block of Rosser Avenue.
"It's the new customers that if they don't come down here ... there's a tree blocking my sign so I will put one on the roof so those people can still see The Chilli Chutney is here."
For Negi, additional signage is just a part of his plans to attract customers.
Within the next week, Negi hopes to secure a liquor licence and set up tables outside so customers can enjoy a cold drink and a samosa on the restaurant's first patio.
Bromley routinely advertises sales on a sandwich board outside her store, but says she'll now consider hosting a sidewalk sale as well.
"Anything to draw more attention," she said. "If we can do a lot of good down here in the short amount of time we have -- and leave people with a taste and wanting more, then that's a good thing."
Pedestrians can cross the street without care until Sept. 18; traffic flow on Rosser Avenue will return to normal the next day.
The one-way traffic on Ninth and 10th streets is on a trial basis.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 18, 2011 A1