As a local business owner, co-chair of the BIA, Chamber of Commerce Member and Carleton Place resident, I can’t help but weigh-in on the issue of our downtown core which has come back into the spotlight after the closing of two long time businesses, Ballygiblins and Read’s Bookstore.
Contrary to many Facebook discussions and personal opinions, the state and future of downtown Carleton Place has been an ongoing issue for many of the involved players, including, but not limited to the BIA, The Town and the Chamber of Commerce. I have had plenty of discussions around board tables, over coffee, standing on the street and into the wee hours of the morning about how to improve the current situation of downtown Carleton Place. The fact is, there is no easy fix, the revitalization of any area is a multi-layered task with many stakeholders, all of which must be actively involved. In order to even start this process, we need to stop the blame game. A struggling downtown is not the fault of the council, business owners, business organizations, customers, residents, landlords, box-stores or anybody else, although all of these groups need to be part of the solution.
In order to get all of these groups working together, we need to start with a plan. In order to create a plan, we need a vision. What do we want downtown Carleton Place to be, to provide? Once that is decided we need to get all parties on board working towards a common goal.
Many other areas and municipalities that have done this successfully had to make controversial and hard decisions at a council level. We too will face such tasks and need a council willing to make an investment for the future at the cost of changing the ways of the past. Such changes may included new legislation regarding business types, a reduction or elimination of tax breaks to vacant spaces, revisiting the need to charge businesses an extra water fee, the banning of visual garbage dumpsters, an investment in by-law enforcement, and an overall commitment to a strong downtown vision. At the beginning of this process, an energetic, competent and strong economic development team with Town staff support, able to work independently of personal agendas, will be required.
We will need landlords and property mangers also willing to make an investment in this vision. Landlords that are willing to work towards creating and maintaining a vibrant and beautiful area with well maintained structures, snow/weed cleared paths, alleys and parking lots, all of which are free of garbage, derelict vehicles and overflowing cigarette butt cans. We need landlords willing to work with business owners, council and others to actively attract and retain high calibre tenants and businesses.
Whatever vision we decide on, the businesses involved must serve the population of Carleton Place and the surrounding area. For some businesses, this may require an extension or change in operating hours. Gone are the days of 9-5 shopping. It just doesn’t work in our current society. We need businesses that are able to serve the commuting population, either later into the evening and/or on Sundays or even on-line. Businesses must create their niche, supply a quality product and above all, make customer service a priory. Business owners must be involved in the process, knowledgeable of services, programs and events in the area. They must create a community among each other that is able to collectively promote the area and each other.