A trio of business owners on Oak Bay Avenue say their shops might not recover from the COVID-19 crisis now that four parking spots were removed across the street to make room for a pub patio.
Bunny Doyle, who owns the Shabby Rabbit clothing store at 2225 Oak Bay Ave., says she was unaware the Penny Farthing and Vis a Vis were going to use the four street parking stalls in front of their side of the street until they were already approved by the District. The parking stalls in front of the Penny Farthing, Vis a Vis, Rogers Chocolate and Walk In Comfort are now protected by bollards and the Penny Farthing is in the process of setting up patio seating where the parking stalls are.
Oak Bay council voted on May 28 to allow businesses to apply to temporarily expand their businesses onto sidewalks or take over parking spots.
Doyle is one of three tenants on the commercial front of the building, between Maresa Boutique women’s clothing, owned by Nancy James, and the Oak Bay Gallery, owned by Dale Shaw.
“We’re the last ones, we haven’t been considered at all,” Doyle said. “They’re giving [the Penny] extra and it’s coming out of our pockets. It’s going to be New Orleans or Las Vegas over there with day drinking. “
It’s not just the retail stores that draw people to Oak Bay Village, Doyle noted. It’s the Village’s five banks (which are now reopening), it’s the pharmacy, chiropractor, dentist, hairstylist and more.
“We need that foot traffic, and without parking the Village will lose it,” Doyle said.
In hopes of stimulating their own business Doyle applied for a dedicated “Oak Bay Gallery, Shabby Rabbit, Maresa Boutique” retail parking sign for the only two parking spots in front of their building.
Mayor Kevin Murdoch noted the biggest parking lot in the Village, at the Monterey Recreation Centre and library directly behind the Shabby Rabbit, has about 75 spots and will remain mostly empty for the summer. Seven parking spots behind municipal hall are also being converted for use by patrons of the Village, Murdoch said.
Even so, people prefer convenience, Doyle said.
“Us retailers don’t offer a necessary service, we offer a fun service, so we’re the ones who’re going to suffer,” Doyle said. “We certainly don’t have the draw that alcohol has, and just imagine the noise we are going to hear.”
Doyle said she left three messages with the Penny Farthing to talk to the owner about the parking spots.
“Parking is the number one complaint… people are always saying there’s not enough parking, so [I’m] a little choked,” James said. “There are [other] options [for the pub], they could leave the space open to parking until 5 p.m., during business hours.”
Any loss of parking is a concern, Murdoch said.
“Council weighed the loss of some on-street parking spots with the benefits of drawing people to our commercial centres and through other ways of helping all businesses,” Murdoch said. “I hope people know that there is lots of parking around the Village and we are welcoming people to visit and shop.”
The council decision was created to benefit the pubs and restaurants following two months of closures and lower seating capacity, Murdoch explained.
“Council felt it critical to do what we could to help them survive, but we have reached out to every business in Oak Bay to ask what we can do to help them,” Murdoch said.
Doyle said they’d like to see a relaxation on the limited residential parking on the Village sidestreets opened up to a two-hour limit, and to limit the Penny Farthing and Vis a Vis patio seats to the parking spots in front of their businesses, and not the whole building front, which would “liberate” two spots in front of Rogers Chocolates and Walk In Comfort, James added.
Murdoch said the District is working on additional improvements in the Village to make the public washrooms more visible, adding signage to ensure people know about the Monterey parking lot and are looking at adding secure bike parking for local workers and visitors.
“We’d like to see bylaw enforcement on The Avenue,” Doyle said. “People leave their cars for three and four hours in two-hour spots, and some people park blocking our driveway [access to staff and residential parking at the back].
“And we’d like to see more signage telling people where to park.”
James pointed to an elderly woman with a dog using a walker to navigate the Oak Bay Avenue sidewalk in front of Maresa Boutique.
“There are 150 others just like her [who live nearby so they can walk into the Village],” James said. “Look at how much trouble she has. And if she wants to be on [the other] side of the street she’ll have to dodge servers, drinkers and diners, and people clearing tables.”