Clean sidewalk and street at city hall. (SUBMITTED)
The City of Brandon, like many others, is putting forth a great deal of effort to lure businesses "downtown" to revitalize what was at one time the hub of commerce and business activity in this and any other city. Do you ever wonder why it is such a fight to encourage businesses to locate downtown? Part of the reason may be that in spite of any incentive grants or other efforts, once they are there, many feel abandoned and hung out to dry!
Success is not measured by how many businesses moved to the downtown area, but by the number that stayed and encouraged other business owners to join them, and who were not forced into bankruptcy or who had to close their businesses when they quickly found out "downtown" was not the panacea it was purported to be in all your advertising and promotion.
A business owner recently told me that he is now close to having to close his business, which will mean the loss of many thousands of dollars, and maybe even bankruptcy. He spent tens of thousands of dollars renovating and equipping his business, and borrowed heavily to do so, in the belief that the "downtown area" was the place for business opportunity! He is now horribly disillusioned, and in a quandary as to whether to pack it all in, and get out as quickly as he can, or stay and slowly bleed to death financially.
The end result will be the same for many business owners; financial ruin, and the loss of their businesses, and maybe even their homes if they have been pledged as security for loans to start the business.
And why does he feel this way? Because of the horrible, ineffective (or non-existent) snow removal system in the downtown area. Customers need to park close to businesses, especially in -30 C to -40 C temperatures. Parking meters are just one of the barriers businesses face, but customers simply cannot climb over two to four-foot mounds of snow at curbside to get to the businesses. These mounds have accumulated when the streets are being plowed, and the snow is not removed at that time, or within a reasonable time, but simply piled against the curb and left to accumulate.
The resulting mounds are two to four feet high in many locations. If potential customers are fortunate enough to find a parking place nearby, the driver is generally the only person who can exit the car, as the snow mounds are so high on the passengers’ side, there is no room to open the door, and most people (especially seniors), cannot climb over the mound. (It is not only restaurants that seniors have a challenge in accessing. With so many of them living in the core area, and with many not having accesss to unlimited transportation, the downtown part of the city is their only link to banks and credit unions, and medical and dental services. Navigating safely in downtown Brandon is an ongoing challenge and sometimes an impossibility for many of these seniors, especially those who require canes, walkers or motorized wheelchairs.)
The plows seem to spend more time in residential subdivisions while very little is being done to actually remove the snow in the business district. When business owners ask why these mounds of snow are not being removed, they are told it is too costly, as it has to be done overnight when the streets are free from both citizens and vehicular traffic, and the city has to pay equipment operators double time and a half as per their union contract!
Council would have approved the union contract in the first place, and if the city could not afford the wages and benefits outlined in the contact, it should never have been signed! Would it really be a novel idea to actually hire operators whose regular schedule shift is from midnight to 8 a.m., so they are paid straight time and not outlandish overtime rates? Or does the union contract not allow this so that the members can get the hefty overtime themselves? Probably the latter!
Attached are pictures taken in the downtown area, so that you can have an appreciation of just what I am saying. Notice the contrast between the mountains of snow in front of the many businesses, compared with the sidewalks in front of city hall (and the provincial building)!
I am not a business owner, and have no financial interest in any business in this city, nor am I related to any business owner. But my heart goes out to any entrepreneur who has the courage to try to start a business venture so that he/she can provide a better lifestyle for his/her family, and who in spite of hard work and financial risk, is left disillusioned when they have been "lured" into an area of the city, with great expectations, and then hung out to dry. It is just not fair!
If you are going to give downtown businesses a "fighting chance," your future promotional material should clarify that your incentives are to encourage moving to the downtown area, and after that, businesses will be left on their own to "sink or swim," and should not expect co-operation of any kind from the city to ensure the success of their business or to keep them in the area.
The City of Toronto may have Rob Ford as the mayor, but say what you like; at least he takes care of the downtown business owners. Maybe the administration of this city should do the same!
G. DEAN COUSENS
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 21, 2014