3 min

Bank St: long road ahead

Businesses in recovery

In the blinking winter sun, pedestrians dodge car and bus traffic on Bank St.

Folks in the area are a little out of practice. For the last six months, Bank St has been closed to car traffic, and pedestrians have been more likely to dodge backhoes than Volvos.

Residents and shoppers are slowly adjusting to post-construction Bank St — a cleaner, less cluttered version of its former self.

For business owners in the area, it’s been a tough slog. Tom Ramsay runs One in Ten, a gay sex shop in the middle of the construction zone. He says business has been down by about 20 percent.

While he was financially prepared for the roadwork when it arrived, he doesn’t expect things to turn around overnight.

“We’ve been under construction for six months, so it’s going to take six months to a year to get back to where we need to be,” says Ramsay. “I’m treating it as if we’re still under construction.”

His shop, on Bank St between Lisgar and Nepean, is one of a handful of gay businesses in and around the area, including Wilde’s, After Stonewall, Centretown Pub, Capital Xtra, Steamworks, the Buzz and Venus Envy. The fledgling Village spans Bank St roughly from Nepean to James and also houses many queer and queer-friendly agencies, including Pink Triangle Services, the AIDS Committee of Ottawa and the Centretown Community Health Centre.

About half of that area was under construction in 2008, with the other half slated for construction starting in the spring of 2009.

Glenn Crawford is spearheading efforts to make the gay community more visible on the street. He’s well aware that businesses have been hard hit by the construction.

“I’ve talked to several of the businesses and it’s certainly been a long haul,” says Crawford.

He says that queers who want to see rainbow flags up on Bank St should shop on Bank St this holiday season.

“Because we’re interested in helping the area grow, we’re encouraging people to come back and support the businesses,” says Crawford.

During the construction, buses were diverted from Bank St. They’ll return once the road opens, but Ramsay is worried that next summer — when the street is torn up between Somerset and the Queensway — the buses will again disappear from the street.

Moreover, he says that some people have developed new habits during the construction which involve bypassing the roadwork.

“I hope that people didn’t get into a routine that sticks,” he says.

The newly opened street has wider sidewalks and a cleaner-looking design. However, the newly sanitized street does not demarcate the area as a place where a high density of gays and lesbians live and shop. It’s been a frustration for Crawford, who’s been sitting on the public advisory committee to the reconstruction for over a year.

“I’ve been told up, down and sideways that there was no way” to get flags on the street, he says. He’s now investigating other ways to clad streetlights in queer markers.

He’s also encouraging local businesses to put up rainbow flags on their storefronts, even offering to help offset the cost of the poles and brackets.

Crawford is confident that he’ll make progress, but suggests it could be 2010 before the city agrees to help out. In the meantime, there are plans to fundraise for some of the costs associated with rainbow markers.

At the same time, it looks like it’s going to be a lean couple of years for businesses in the area.

In 2009, construction will tear through Bank St from Somerset to Arlington. That strip includes Wilde’s and After Stonewall, two of the city’s most prominent gay businesses.

David Rimmer is the owner of After Stonewall.

“I’m not really looking forward to next year,” he says. “Except that we have a buffer: university student textbooks.”

He says business from students whose professors order their required reading from After Stonewall helps keep the bookstore afloat. Across the street, Rob Giacobbbi of Wilde’s is handling a shipment of merchandise that’s arrived just in time for the holidays.

He says he’s been preparing for the construction for a year and a half. He’s already notified his customers about the upcoming road closures and purchased parking spaces for his customers in the lot behind his store.

“Plus, I’d say we have about 5,000 customers who live within a 10 minute walk,” he says.

He says he hasn’t noticed a big dip in sales from the bus diversions, at least not yet.

Some have been hit harder than others. Ramsay says that his shop — which sells sex toys, poppers and porn — has a niche market and that, while new clients have been reduced to a trickle, he still sees a lot of familiar faces.

“There could be a moat and alligators, and people would still come down,” he says.

Representatives from the city and councillor Diane Holmes’ office were not immediately available for comment.