Downtown Victoria businesses on Government Street have mixed feelings about the City’s decision to close a portion of the street to cars.
As of June 8, Government Street between Humboldt to View streets has transformed with a portion of it becoming single lane traffic to prioritize pedestrians and another portion open to pedestrians only. The initiative is temporary, according to Mayor Lisa Helps, and will run until Oct. 31 before being reassessed.
Helps said the goal is to support businesses hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is intended to facilitate outdoor commercial use, such as allowing restaurants to expand their patios and giving performers and musicians areas to entertain. Pedestrians also have adequate space to physically distance.
The street, which is typically busy with tourists, was empty on a rainy Tuesday afternoon with a few pedestrians walking between shops. Many souvenir stores remain closed or have reduced hours as well.
Out of Ireland Irish Importers store owner Theresa Palmer said she understands the temporary changes to the street are necessary during the pandemic but does not think it should be a permanent step.
“In normal times we would never want the street closed to vehicular traffic,” Palmer said. “We think there’s not enough density in the downtown core for this and also our climate doesn’t necessarily permit the ideal patio lifestyle year-round.”
Palmer said many of her customers are older and prefer to drive rather than walk or bike. The buses from cruise ships also stop just outside the store, bringing more customers in.
“Once tourism begins again we wouldn’t want the street to be closed,” Palmer said.
Cool as a Moose store manager Rosa McCormick said she thinks the additional space is also good for now, but worries it would impact business in the long-run.
“Last summer we stayed open late and as tourists waited to catch their bus, they’d browse,” McCormick said. “We could lose a lot of money if we’re not able to cater to them.”
Couriers will also have to find new places to park their trucks outside of the closed and partially closed zones.
Wheeling a dolly stacked high with packages through Government Street on Tuesday, Fred Riemer said the new restrictions make deliveries difficult.
Trucks have been given some spots to park but they still have to walk deliveries to stores and restaurants. Riemer said he’s worried about there being enough parking for those servicing the area.
“Couriers and delivery people are upset,” Riemer said.
Riemer was delivering a parcel to Old Morris Tobacconist, where sales associate Ricardo Berry noted that a lack of vehicles could make the street safer for pedestrians, and bring in more customers.
“We were worried at first but we’re hoping that as patios expand it’ll bring more people into the street and foot traffic into stores,” Berry said.
While there may not be bus loads of tourists making their way down Government Street this summer, Palmer said she hopes Victorians will opt to have staycations and keep their business local. She said it’s important to note that while souvenir stores sometimes get a bad reputation, many of them are family-owned and rely on tourism in the summer months to stay afloat.
“It’s been absolutely dreadful for business in this area,” Palmer said. “We hope that when people come down they’ll go to restaurants and also do some shopping and support the businesses on Government Street at this time.”
-With files from Nina Grossman.